How Manufacturers Can Manage Shipment Data Without Holding All the Cards
Whenever you sell a physical item, it’s easy to believe that shipping is always going to be a hassle. Unless you choose to ship the product directly to a consumer, you’ll have to deal with third parties and systems that have varying ages, levels of sophistication, and functionality. These systems must all integrate in order to keep the business running. Most businesses have had to appoint someone to manage the different vendors and their different Shipping Management Systems (SMS), but with the advance of technology, you’ve got far more options than you might think.
In fact, Weidenhammer partnered with a manufacturing company that’s been providing home comfort products internationally for more than a century and had the opportunity to show a few ways manufacturing companies especially can optimize their workflows through digitization.
Finding Ways to Reduce Shipping Delays
Our client’s brand is a household name, but they rely on big box retailers like Walmart, Sam’s Club, Home Depot, and Amazon to get them into customer’s hands. Since each retailer has its own systems and processes, the manufacturer had to dedicate personnel to managing orders for each independent retailer to help the product get out the door.
An especially tricky issue was that even though orders were automatically pushed via EDI to our customer’s ERP and SMS systems, information related to shipping carrier and shipment pick up time were not provided until later. This time lag led to more time spent on finding the right information, delayed shipments, and other bottlenecks in the process that cost time, money, and customer experience.
Which is why they called Weidenhammer.
Assessing the Options
Whenever a client has an issue, Weidenhammer starts by taking stock of how things are operating in the organization. The client had expressed interest in Robotic Process Automation (RPA), but after listening to what the client was looking to do, we first recommended looking at APIs for the different retailer portal systems.
Prioritizing based on sales volume and arduousness, we set out to investigate the API path for our customer’s top three retailers.
We advised our customer of industry best-practices: it’s almost always better to pull information directly from the API into your own system because it means that you’ll build a direct pathway between where the data is stored and where you can access it. When compared to RPA, the API route is often a larger initial investment, but is more stable and requires less maintenance over the long term.
However, we ran into a major hiccup: the API’s contained data points with identical labels to those we were after, but upon deeper investigation we realized they were not the same, and that meant we needed to change course.
When Weidenhammer realized that a straightforward API integration wasn’t possible we were back to RPA.
Our team set out to create three Unattended RPA solutions, all powered by a single Power Automate Desktop RPA bot. Each solution involves logging into the retailer portal at a set interval, navigating the various screens, searching and scraping for the shipping information we are after, and then dropping that information in our customer’s SMS solution.
Today, our customer brings their facilities online each morning and knows that the very latest order and shipping information is available, and they can effectively begin packing orders.
How Automation Helped
RPA Improved Client Experience
Whether you’re a company or an individual, no one likes to deal with delayed shipments, and our client’s customers were no different. By reducing the risk of error in shipment records, Weidenhammer was able to improve the speed of shipment processing and ensure accuracy for all the manufacturer’s customers.
RPA Improved Employee Experience
Since our client was dedicating human resources for a highly manual and menial task, it would be highly understandable that an employee might rate their experience as less than perfect. By automating the task, our client could empower their employees to pursue tasks that have a higher impact on the business, leading to greater engagement and more overall growth.
RPA Saved Money
In addition to saving significant man hours across three full-time resources, our customer also found a concrete ROI that hit the bottom line. Before working on this project, the team was not aware of the common practice in retail for Big Box retailers to fine their providers when shipments are not received on time. These fines are sometimes as high as 25% of the original sale price. While it did not occur regularly with our client, it was a major hit when it did, and by automating this workflow we were able to drive these events out of the picture.
The Bottom Line
Companies of any stripe should always take steps to protect their reputation, and there are many storied businesses who have ways of doing so effectively. However, over the last half century, processes that have traditionally been repetitive, rules-based, and required a human hand have been automated well enough to require minimal oversight.
Weidenhammer was able to assist a manufacturing company take its shipment process and make it more efficient, less labor-intensive, and require fewer resources to manage, while also making an even more positive impact in the lives of its customers and employees alike, and improve the bottom line.