The ubiquitous integration challenge

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When working within the logistics industry, efficient integration of IT platforms is becoming a must-have for both shippers and logistic service providers. Carrying and maintaining structured data between trusted parties is a much-needed tool for efficiency in a world where rates, market conditions, and service offerings are constantly changing – currently on a day-to-day basis. Integration options cannot only be between well-established systems with suitable application programming interfaces (APIs). Still, they must also embrace XML files, older API technologies, and sometimes even emails.

In CON-LINQ, we work with various technologies and partners when integrating different stakeholders of the supply chain. It can be modern and responsive connections like an API to courier companies to placing a booking and returning a label, integration to TMS systems via including bi-direction data flows or import of structured OIO-UBL invoice data for efficient invoice control. These flows and connections are all well documented and have an extensive set of options to be configured to the situation at hand. Unfortunately, not all processes and needed integrations fall within the well-defined APIs and formats' normal boundaries. Freight forwarders’ platforms must adapt and have transparent layers where exceptions can be implemented without jeopardizing the overall business architecture and process flows.

When starting implementation of fLex, or any other business-critical platform, we always recommend taking a step back and making sure the boundaries and responsibilities between the major IT systems and business processes are clearly defined and acknowledged by all stakeholders. It helps answer questions like; What are the sources for a data entity type, like a booking  (Website, API, EDIFACT, TMS, Email, Phone, Agent System…?)? Can we guarantee adequate data quality from each of these sources, and if not, what impact will that have on the remaining data flows and automated processes? How many of these sources can be eliminated, and which quality gates can we introduce?

The answers, unfortunately, do not come easy for most freight forwarders. Still, with a clarification, the organization is, at least from an integration standpoint, well equipped for onboarding new customers, introducing new products into the portfolio, and leveraging modern technologies.

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