September 1998 | Case Studies | I.T. Toolkit

DHL Simplifies International Transportation

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DHL Connect Automates the Processes Required to Transport and Track Global Shipments.

The dynamics of transcontinental shipping fluctuate hourly with changing cultural and political winds. Even when using proven carriers such as Airborne, DHL, Federal Express, RPS, and UPS, businesses can lose control of their packages when they hand them over for shipment.

To try and remove some of the mystique and mayhem associated with transportation to and from foreign countries, DHL Worldwide Express, Redwood City, Calif., has launched DHL Connect, a new software application. DHL Connect places DHL's knowledge of international air express delivery inside any PC. International distribution becomes a user-friendly, chartered course, rather than a black hole of uncertainty.

"Shipping internationally depends upon discrete processes, such as establishing airbill identification numbers, checking addresses to confirm deliverability, and tracking the shipment," explains Alan Boehme, director of business planning at DHL Worldwide Express. "We've leveraged the power of the Internet so anyone can connect directly into our system and conduct business on an international scale. Even if transport buyers don't have Internet access, they can link into the shipping resources of DHL Connect through our VPN (Virtual Private Network)."

Researching and maintaining the comprehensive information necessary to understand the intricacies of import and export licenses, the specific paperwork required by different governments, or projected delivery schedules between countries is an expertise unto itself. For instance, shipments with "commercial value" are classified as dutiable, subjecting them to import taxation, vs. routine business correspondence that does not incur additional paperwork or cost.

The DHL Connect service, available on CD-ROM or via download from the DHL web site (http://www.dhl-usa.com), automates the processes required to prepare shipment documentation, track the shipment, notify the recipient that it is enroute, and maintain reports. The software, provided free of charge to any DHL customer regardless of the number or frequency of international shipments, houses a comprehensive list of commodity classifications (for example, dutiable vs. non-dutiable) and can integrate with personal information management (PIM) systems such as MS Outlook, Symantec ACT, and Lotus Organizer. Users of DHL Connect during its recent pre-production beta release say it is convenient and easy to use.

International Data Corporation (IDC), Framingham, Mass., is a leading provider of information technology data and analysis with more than 300 research consultants operating in more than 40 countries, including seven U.S. locations. With 10 to 60 international express shipments leaving its headquarters daily, IDC utilized several expedited delivery carriers, including DHL, Federal Express, and UPS. One of its preferred systems was DHL's EasyShip on-line tracking mechanism, so the DHL Connect software provided a logical extension.

"The tracking capabilities of DHL Connect are valuable for our time-sensitive packages that need to be monitored as they pass from hand to hand," explains Sydney Balise, manager of office services for IDC. "Even with excellent customer service and communications, phone calls to stay abreast of shipments invariably routed through voice mails, which meant waiting for a reply call. Instant tracking access at the desktops of our key people is convenient and efficient."

The system has gained acceptance immediately. Balise describes it as the "unanimous machine of choice" because it is easy and fast. She estimates that a single three-to-five minute session brings the user up to speed with DHL Connect.

"People don't have to take time to run from the fourth floor to the mailroom. In two or three keystrokes they can print a shipping airbill at the local laser printer, insert it in a plastic pouch and it's ready to go," says Balise. "We're throwing away the airbills; within six months no one will manually write the information."

Another proponent of the timesaving convenience was searching for a file maker or software to accommodate airbill layouts when DHL launched its beta test.

"I spend one to one-and-a-half minutes per package, compared with a minimum of five minutes to manually complete an airbill - 10 minutes if I wrote it so it could be read," says Ian Macadam, program assistant special executive programs at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Cambridge, Mass.

Sending 10 to 30 packages daily to students, partner universities, and corporations in obscure locations around the world, Macadam frequently had to track down packages that never made it to the intended destination. "One of the biggest advantages with this software is that it can correct problems before the package ships," reports Macadam. "If the address is incorrect or nondeliverable, the software can alert you or edit the information so that the package doesn't get left sitting in Customs or delivered to the wrong address."

The innovative hybrid architecture marries a Windows type application to the open Internet, allowing DHL to broadcast updates and regulatory changes as they occur to every PC using the software. Boehme predicts the next step, which he proclaims is merely a "step, not a futuristic leap," will be updating shipments in progress.

"The key to DHL Connect is this ability to allow the user's systems to communicate with our systems in real time," says Kathleen Schumacher, vice president of logistics, DHL Worldwide Express. "With the trend to replace warehouses and inventories with direct distribution to the end user, senders must track their shipments. Logistics is information; therefore improving the communication of information by definition will improve logistics."

In terms of international commerce, the software levels the playing field so any person can initiate and monitor shipments from their desktop - whether they're sitting in the CEO's chair of a Fortune 500 company or in a home office.

By leveraging the power of the Internet, DHL Connect lets companies of all sizes conduct business on an international scale.

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