Logistics – All in one

Company Selectra ltd. was using a tailored and many times adjusted transport program until August 2005. This system unfortunately did not communicate with other fields – invoicing and CRM.

ERP systems usually do not meet the needs of warehouse or transport operations as effectively as specialized systems do. On the other hand, specialized systems usually fail to cover administration activities associated with job order processing. Therefore, a combination of both is used. It is quite unique, however, when the implementing organization is able to supply such a combination as a well-functioning whole. It was the case at Selectra company.

Selectra, a company specialized in international and national forwarding, logistics and related services, had used in the past a tailor-made and many times modified conveyance software. This system, however, did not make it possible to communicate with associated areas of accounting and CRM. Conveyance, accounting and CRM were covered by three different systems operating on three different platforms which made retrieval and exchange of data cumbersome, required extra work for accounting personnel etc.

Dissatisfaction of the company management with this situation resulted in a decision to select and implement a unified ERP system which could cover necessary administration agenda and which could also ensure transport planning and control, shipment monitoring and which could handle communication with customers. The parallel goal thus was to improve customer service comfort (shipment tracking, web interface access, real-time information).

“Having in mind further development of the company and reinforcement of its position in the market of forwarding services, we have chosen the BIZ4Logistics solution supplied by NAVISYS&#59; we appreciated the comprehensiveness of the well-mastered field-specific forwarding solution interconnected with a web portal,” says Michal Tupec, statutory representative of Selectra. BIZ4Logistics, including the web portal functionality, was implemented together with Microsoft Business Solution – Navision 4.0 ERP system (today called Microsoft Dynamics NAV).

The field-specific BIZ4Logistics solution has been based on the platform of Microsoft Dynamics NAV information system. The result has been a combination of a robust ERP system and a specialized solution adjusted to specific needs and requirements of forwarding companies. The BIZ4Logistics solution ensures, for instance, planning and execution of transports, driver and shift scheduling, truck maintenance scheduling, monitoring and evaluation of transports, toll calculations, controlling, delivery and route optimization. In addition to these specific processes typical of logistics firms, in particular, other areas such as human resources, salaries or accounting are supported by Microsoft Dynamics NAV.

“Various technologies can thus be integrated into the system, be it either Microsoft BizTalk, we use, or Map&Guide map data, for instance. The system can be integrated with a web portal or it can utilize Microsoft SharePoint for company document management with direct links to the company central information system,” adds Michal Tupec.

The core part of the system was implemented in four months

The field-specific BIZ4Logistics solution was supplied to the logistics company with minimum modifications, involving such things like changes in report design, for instance. Other modifications were related to the specific company organization structure, including, for example, data sharing between the daughter company and the head office – new functionality was developed for business meetings and opportunity evaluation and management.

Naturally, implementing such a complex solution is not a question of three weeks during the company vacation period. This is why the project was scheduled in three phases. In the first phase, the information system as a whole was implemented, including the BIZ4Logistics field-specific solution. “We managed to complete this process in approximately four months and one can say that there were no serious problems,” states Miroslav Šmeral, BIZ4Logistics senior consultant from NAVISYS. “Like in most projects, complications arose with data migration from the original systems. NAVISYS participated here in preparation of database queries and output analysis. Where some data coming from the original system were not in correct structures, certain corrections were made. Therefore, internal import algorithms had to be modified.”

The experienced implementing company coped well with the challenge, ensuring that all sales and logistics processes, including transport planning and management, were covered by the information system. All customer orders are entered into the system, with each order having some logistics status (plan, confirmed order, transit, completed transit etc.). The results are processed online, employing various views in several branches and companies. “With large volumes of monthly shipments (up to 2000), it is necessary to obtain quickly an overview of to how many customer orders no truck has yet been assigned, what is the financial volume of orders in completed transit state, what is the expected number of travelled kilometres according to the plan and like,” explains Michal Tupec.

Each transport is evaluated before actual invoicing. These data are then used in statistics from the perspective of quality, customer complaints, supplier reliability etc. Invoiced shipments are immediately reflected in accounting and available analytic tools.

Dispatchers can themselves configure notification messages

An important feature of the core solution is transportation tracking. A mobile unit installed in the vehicle is used here as a tool. Vehicle data collection and GPS position monitoring has become a standard today. An added value of the solution at Selectra can be seen in driver communication which can be to a great extent automated and prepared in advance at the dispatcher system through templates. This communication poses greater requirements both on the hardware in the vehicle and on the driver. In order to ensure that operating the communication equipment is as easy as possible for the driver, the company uses communication and automation templates to prepare an interface requiring minimum effort to enter the requested data. As a result, in most of the tasks, it is enough for the driver to confirm by pressing a single button.

All the data entered or confirmed by the driver in the terminal are transmitted online to the information system. Depending on the settings, notification messages are sent to the dispatcher. The dispatcher himself can specify whether he wants to receive such messages, in what form and at what time. For instance, in late afternoon when his working hours are about to end and when he knows that only a couple of crucial vehicles are on their way, he can prepare a suitable filter for these vehicles and he can activate SMS notifications to his mobile phone. The dispatcher is thus immediately informed of any changes in the status of the selected shipments.

Messages can also be routed to the customers, using automatic notification via emails. Information like the licence plate, arrival to loading or unloading or other shipment states can be reported.

BizTalk made communication easier with a key customer

In following months the second phase was started: seamless data exchange with a key customer of Selectra. The above mentioned technology of Microsoft BizTalk was applied, which makes it possible to connect remotely two different information systems. “In practice it means that a customer order fax message was replaced with an electronic message. After data processing and transformation the message is directly entered into the system,” explains Miroslav Šmeral. Using BizTalk, the customer sends out a purchase order, while the dispatcher of the supplier can see it in his system as a sales order. The dispatcher processes the order in his system and returns an electronic confirmation of the order directly to the system of the business partner.

In the third phase a new web portal was launched for Selectra customers. Using the portal, the customers can monitor processing of their orders from anywhere. They can see, for instance, when the truck carrying their goods crossed the border, where it is now etc. The customers have a good overview of their orders at various transportation stages, depending on how important the transportation is for them, in terms of time of delivery to the recipient, for example. The logged-in user can also view all active destinations which are subject to the contract with the carrier. The system enables viewing of all necessary destination details and placing orders based on specified destinations of later shipments. The ordered shipments are transmitted online to the information system of the carrier. In this way, significant amount of time is saved and errors are eliminated which can otherwise result, for instance, from issuing a paper order and retyping it manually from a fax printout. The web portal is fully integrated with the database and business logic of the information system. All this results in wider range of services offered by Selectra and endows it with indisputable competitive advantage.

Results and benefits for the company

By implementing Microsoft Dynamics NAV and vertical BIZ4Logistics solution the Selectra management’s vision of a modern and dynamic information system covering all business activities of the company, enabling efficient control and increasing customer comfort has come true. The advantage of combining both the systems lies, first of all, in merging all activities in one information system without the need of transferring data from one system to another (minimization of error) and in providing various views of data in real time. The use of shared databases for individual activities prevented creation of duplicities in data gathering.

Using modern information systems made further growth of Selectra easier, improving at the same time communication within the company and with its business partners. “Thanks to the system we can even prepare individual marketing campaigns, create opportunities with specific current and potential customers, including definition of activities and the subsequent tasks. This component also supports cost allocation to individual campaigns and their later evaluation from the cost and effect perspective,” says Michal Tupec.

It is appropriate to mention efficiency assessment of individual processes, transports, and staff also in relation to the quality of provided services, assessment of reliability of external subcontractors.

In any respect, productivity of dispatchers has increased, a lot of time-consuming administration work could be dropped, and error rate in entering data has gone down. The system security is much better&#59; permissions are defined for individual users for various parts of applications.

And in what aspect the job was interesting for the implementing company? “Selectra differs in the overall attitude of the management to modern information instruments and their integration into the company processes. The management is not afraid of investing into information technologies and into further improvements of their already well functioning system,” concludes Miroslav Šmeral.