May 20th 2019

Structuring your Data for Logistics

Following on from our article on Data Quality we’re looking to help shed some light on how to improve the structure of your data and help you to understand how data can affect how your customers interact with your business.

Most companies when starting out have rapid growth and with this often the way you manage data is not prioritised over more urgent work.  Logistics is no different and often the data you process and retain is critical to your clients in managing their data as well.

So the data you’re working with has to be accurate and easy to use.  You usually start looking closely at your data when your internal reporting starts not to tie up, i.e forecasts v actuals and also if you're trying to interrogate your data to get market information about your clients.

The other time you look is when your clients want to know what you’re doing for them and then possibly want to measure your performance.

With Logistics, this can be a little more complex than most industries, but this article will also be relevant to other industries looking to improve their data structure.

The Process to make sure you have a decent quality of data

Every job starts from a sales lead to the customer information is the start; this could be the Billing Address, Controlling Office, Delivery Location or Locations.

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A common mistake we have found is that often-duplicate addresses are created. This then filters through to the operations system and then you end up having 2 or 3 account codes. If this isn’t controlled early in the process, then you could have data split across multiple account codes which can have a massive impact on your reporting and potentially your invoicing.

If I took my previous company, there were over 150+ different combinations for 1 single address. This meant that a serious amount of data was missing from their track and trace system and also made invoicing a major chore to reconcile.

So, a proper process should be put in place at the start of the process to make sure only 1 address can be used for Billing and then this needs to filter through to all other systems.

The same issues for Shipper, Consignee, Notify and Agent addresses; these all need to be controlled centrally or have something in the process which allows you to check that previous addresses haven’t been entered.

Once you have the controls in place you should document the exact process on how to onboard a company and then you need to make sure you have another process to check that what you’re doing is regularly checked for data quality issues.

In my previous company, within the Road freight division, we were individually responsible for making sure the information we were entering was accurate and that no addresses where duplicated. The system did check for duplicates, but you can bypass this if you knew how. Every Christmas Eve at the start of the day a report was run and when all the duplicates where removed or merged you could go home. First Christmas I was there to 6pm, the next Christmas I was gone by 11am. The process worked very well and considering we were dealing with 1000’s of multi-drop shipments a month the whole team kept a high level of quality data.

This is the start of the process; the real part of data quality is the ability to measure the data within the supply chain. From booking the job to delivering to the client in the UK.  You would think this is not hard to manage however it’s a complete headache if you first don’t get the address information correct. Other issues then come down to the following how the shipment/booking is entered.

The paperwork your provided all the key information, from commodity codes, description of goods, which paperwork is provided i.e. C88, Certificate of Origin, Letter Of Credits, Sales Invoices etc. we also then have weights, Cubic meters, dimensions and other measures, then we have the INCOTERMS i.e. FOB etc.. , Vessel names etc…

You would be surprised at how wrong data can be. 

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  • Your operation system should stop you doing crazy things like adding 30 CBM for a 20FT container. This will throw any utilisation reporting out.
  • Allowing free type on Vessel names and Shipping lines. Prevents reporting by Shipping Line or Vessel name.
  • Free type addresses into the system and particularly not allowing people to skip Towns, Countries and Post Codes.
  • Allowing dates which should be in the future be entered before they should. Logical Conditioning.

The Process is key – It will save you money

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Documenting every step of your operation will mean fewer mistakes, you still will get some data issues but if you have a process in place to monitor this then you know that you can provide decent data to your clients.  Happy clients will mean more repeat business and recommendations.

If you have a track and trace system and you have a large number of calls from people asking where their shipments are, it is a big cost to your organisation. If you could reduce the calls and increase the accuracy of the data, then this in itself is a cost saving.

Let’s take my previous company, they had teams around the world constantly checking and monitoring data quality, they had teams constantly looking at ways to improve productivity. You're saying great they had the budget for it, however as they grew, they realised how important the data is and how to retain and increase customer spend is to have proactive processes in place.

The key is to limit the opportunity to make mistakes by putting controls in place and make sure that every step of the business has the process mapped out and documented, from the time a new lead comes into the booking of a shipment or order to how you do the invoicing.

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