There are only two hard things in Computer Science: cache invalidation and naming things.
-- Phil Karlton
As a systems integration company, we spend a lot of time helping companies get the right information to the right people at the right time. Believe it or not, this isn’t a very hard problem from a technology perspective. Any first year computer science student can figure out how to turn an XML file into a JSON API. Given enough time and google-fu, they can figure out how to handle an EDI file too.
What’s really, really hard is figuring out what problem you’re trying to solve and how it expresses itself in the real world. For example, we have a customer who works with hundreds of freight and logistics providers to support their global supply chain. In an attempt to keep things sane, they’ve harmonized on 4 points where they want each provider to send back a message containing all of the details of the shipment. This is what many of us in the industry would refer to as an “ASN”.
The four points are listed in their implementation guide as:
- Cargo Delivered
When we began onboarding this customer onto the Chain.io platform, the first thing we did was have them walk us through this process with a live shipment so we could ask questions.
For the first point, “Receipt” we asked. “Is this a confirmation that the file was received by the provider or a confirmation that they are accepting it and will actually move the freight?” The customer responded, “The first one, we want it back as soon as they get the file,” and then… wait for it… “except some of our team are using it the second way, and we might want to do that in the future.”
This is where we break out an incredibly valuable resource, The DCSA Industry Blueprint (https://dcsa.org/standards/industry-blueprint/). If you’re not familiar with the DCSA, they’re a neutral organization funded by the carriers that provides standards for container shipping. They’re most famous for the DCSA API Standards, which the carriers have begun to implement, but I believe this blueprint may end up being their most impactful work.
The blueprint provides 32 pages of flow charts explaining each step in the container shipping process in a level that few of us in the industry really understand. It provides a common language for sitting down with a shipper or forwarder to make sure that you are really talking about the same thing before you start burning IT resources.
In our Receipt example, we were able to use this flow chart to highlight two very different points in the process and come to an understanding of what the customer was requesting from their service providers.
If they want the first box on the left, then they could expect their providers to respond immediately and 100% of the time. If they want the one on the right, then they needed to allow time for the business process to happen and also needed to be prepared to accept rejections.
After reviewing with their internal team, they agreed that the first box was much more important, and we were able to move ahead with a consistent implementation across their provider base. They were also able to set clear expectations with their internal team that if they eventually wanted the second that would be a different requirement that they could implement in a future project phase.
Without the DCSA Industry Blueprint, we’d have struggled to establish a common understanding among all the stakeholders. I encourage everyone to start using this framework in your customer and service provider interactions.
If you need help facilitating these conversations or implementing the solutions, get in touch with a Chain.io solutions consultant here.
* some terminology adjusted to protect confidentiality