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Flexport goes upstream with new Order Management suite

(Photo: Jim Allen / FreightWaves)

Order Management will help suppliers ship accurately and on time

Tuesday morning Flexport announced the launch of Order Management, a suite of tools to help consignees and suppliers manage orders at the SKU and purchase-order level prior to the shipment process.

Flexport has already made strides establishing better visibility and collaboration in international logistics shipments, but many problems faced by its customers begin well before ocean containers and aircraft are loaded with freight.

One of the most persistent problems during the frenzied rush for ocean capacity that characterized the international supply chain in 2020 was that suppliers simply wait too long to book their shipments. Overwhelmed by a deluge of orders from many customers and stymied by rolled shipments and unavailable equipment, suppliers in many cases failed to manage their orders appropriately and book their shipments in time. Another common issue is that suppliers, short on inventory, sometimes shipped fewer or different SKUs than were ordered, or by a different mode than was requested, and Flexport had no way of easily reconciling orders to the supplier, which were outside of its system, with the shipments that were ultimately sent out.

“We wanted to address the lack of purchase-order and SKU-level visibility throughout the supply chain life cycle,” said Drew Quinn, product group lead at Flexport. “Customers have orders with rich details, but that data is not being married up to the logistics data. You couldn’t go into a shipment and say how many red chairs and blue chairs are in this booking until the commercial invoice document was available.”

Flexport’s Order Management capabilities focus on enabling consignees and suppliers to collaborate earlier in the supply chain and intelligently prevent problems with inaccurate or late bookings. Flexport’s platform can now finalize orders and monitor their status, providing order-level contextual messaging between consignees and shippers to help resolve any issues. Consignees can also configure rules for each order that will automatically flag bookings for review before it’s able to ship.

“Once shipments do get booked, we help suppliers understand whether the booking and details associated with the booking match this order,” Quinn said. “The supplier ends up making a booking and Order Management helps cross-check all those parameters. We make it easy to see when there’s discrepancies in units, mode or destination, for example, and bubble it up and provide a workflow for these things to get resolved.”

(A view of Flexport’s Order Management product. Image: Flexport)

One example that Quinn mentioned was a hypothetical manufacturing delay at a supplier plant, which then prompted an email conversation with the consignee. In that conversation, the consignee changes the mode of its shipment from ocean to air, but then when the order is built, the supplier mistakenly books an ocean shipment. Those email conversations can be disorganized and lack context — in other words, these messages aren’t attached to the EDI and API messages that constitute the orders themselves. By ingesting the order process inside its platform, Flexport provides a way for suppliers and consignees to communicate about specific orders, so that when someone at the supplier makes the booking, he or she sees the conversation attached to the relevant order.

“Not only do we have a way to capture that conversation and make it contextual, but also in the booking flow the supplier will see an alert that says: ‘This order says air and you booked ocean, are you sure you want to proceed?’” Quinn said. “Then the consignee gets a notification that the booking is flagged. Some people care about quantity, not mode, so the consignee sets up preferences and specifies what they care about, so our platform is only flagging discrepancies folks have said they care about.”

During the development process, Flexport found that 70% of its customers were talking with their suppliers using the messaging feature and that about 70% of the actual shipments in the trial had purchase order and SKU-level data associated with them, indicating that suppliers were able to understand the flow from order to shipment and link the data.

Flexport addressed the problem of late bookings with its Date Management tool that helps suppliers ensure that bookings are made on time, for instance 14 days before the cargo-ready date with email and in-app alerts and processes for exception management.

Providing tools to help suppliers reconcile the shipments they’ve built and booked with their orders from consignees is clearly valuable to Flexport’s customers in real time, but carrying order data forward through the life cycle also enhances Flexport’s post-hoc reporting and analytics capabilities. Now Flexport can help consignees understand which suppliers consistently book late, and perhaps why, for instance if the supplier is experiencing a rolling shortage of a specific SKU.

Flexport customers typically have internal software like an inventory management system or an enterprise resource planning system to manage orders, and it is not Flexport’s intention to replace that functionality. Flexport built a standard API to send customer orders into the Flexport platform smoothly so that the order data can be welded to the shipment processes Flexport already manages. Order Management also supports a number of other integration methods, including CSV files, EDI and manually uploaded spreadsheets.

John Paul Hampstead

John Paul conducts research on multimodal freight markets and holds a Ph.D. in English literature from the University of Michigan. Prior to building a research team at FreightWaves, JP spent two years on the editorial side covering trucking markets, freight brokerage, and M&A.