June 1, 2012, 12:00 AM

Sponsored Article: A logistics platform that connects the dots from customer order to carrier

A logistics platform that connects the dots from customer order to carrier.

Fulfillment, order verification, shipping, compliance with parcel carriers' rules and other back-end logistics functions may go unseen by consumers, but they are crucial and complex pieces of the customer satisfaction puzzle.

Yet as important as logistics and shipping management are to an online merchant's business, they have typically been stand-alone applications that were not integrated with order management software to expedite fulfillment and shipping and enable customers to track their packages online.

Recognizing that integration between customer-facing order-processing systems and back-end logistics applications could provide online merchants with end-to-end visibility and control over fulfillment and shipping, Noah Ostanik, principal and acting executive director for Agile Network, set out to solve the problem.

"Lack of integration between shipping and order management systems can be a big problem," says Ostanik. "A logistics platform that can be integrated with warehouse and inventory management systems and order-processing applications, however, creates a scaleable, enterprise-class solution for managing logistics and shipping across the supply chain."

With many e-retailers having to offer free shipping just to attract customers, Agile Network has seen an increase in the number of e-commerce merchants asking for solutions to lessen the cost of shipping orders for free.

"We work with our customers adding carriers and services that are lower cost than the traditional services, such as FedEx SmartPost, UPS SurePost and Newgistics," says Ostanik. "Being able to intelligently choose the best carrier for each order will save our customers as much as 30% of their shipping expenses."

Connections to carriers

Ostanik's vision for how a shipping platform should interact with an e-commerce platform was shaped by years of experience as a reseller of shipping applications. As customer requests for more integration between shipping and order management applications increased, his company began moving into software development.

Ostanik's evolution from software reseller to application developer led him to join Agile Network about seven years ago. The appeal of Agile Network was the integration of its shipping and logistics platform with carrier systems, thereby providing end-users complete visibility into a carrier's rates, shipping guidelines and schedules for surcharges and accessory fees.

"Our original goal was to build a better logistics platform that included such features as parcel compliance, document creation, label printing and supported all the services a parcel carrier offers," Ostanik recalls. "Agile, which was founded by resellers of shipping applications, already did this. That meant its developers could focus more on integrating with partners, such as Oracle and SAP, as opposed to keeping up with changes in each carrier's platform."

Oracle and SAP are two of the major providers of business accounting and planning software known as enterprise resource planning, or ERP, systems.

Agile provides logistics management software that enables online merchants to measure carrier performance, plan shipping routes and analyze line item details, such as why a package could not be delivered, to help with settlement of carrier invoices. Its software also performs carrier audits and initiates payment of carrier invoices.

AgileShip, for example, is a shipping solution for Oracle E-Business Suite applications, including order management, warehouse management, e-commerce, customer relationship management and ERP. The application automates the entire shipping process from order verification and weighing each package prior to shipping to labeling the package and delivery to the carrier.

AgileShip is also integrated with FedEx, UPS and DHL shipping systems, as well as a certified network of more than 5,000 North American and international freight and parcel carriers. In addition, the company holds the highest technology and service certifications from all major independent parcel carriers and the United States Postal Service.

"When working with a solutions partner, Agile provides its application programming interfaces so they can easily integrate to our platform and distribute our functionality throughout their ecosystem. This standardized approach to system integration makes it drastically easier for customers to embed our functionality into their business as opposed to having to build a custom, one-off interface for every client," explains Ostanik. "It also makes Agile the leading choice among host system providers for the shipping component of their platform. As a result, Agile has an inventory of certified interfaces to all of the major leading ERP, warehouse management and accounting systems."

International shipping

As more e-commerce merchants expand globally they need solutions to help them navigate the ins and outs of delivering to customers outside the U.S. That means complying with rules regarding items that some countries restrict, letters of instruction to the carrier and calculating duty and tax for the customer at the time to order.

"Compliance is a big issue with shipping, especially international orders, and our system makes it possible to handle all compliance issues on one platform," says Ostanik. "Our goal is to provide a ready-to-go platform that supports all of an end-user's logistical and shipping needs."

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