Today�s highly competitive business environment brings many challenges to manufacturers.  No longer can companies rest on their laurels, they must be internally driven to continuously improve their processes to remain competitive, or they risk losing customers and profits. Small- to mid-sized companies have the increased pressure of tackling these challenges with limited resources, both people and capital. 
One key area for organizations to improve is the shipping department. Automating your shipping environment with today�s highly sophisticated software can be an effective method to improve your bottom line while also providing a quick return on your investment. Multi-carrier shipping solutions can be implemented in a short time, deliver virtually immediate cost-savings and improve customer satisfaction.
When evaluating your existing shipping environment, there are many capabilities you can consider in your solution. No matter which solution you choose, be sure you include these important capabilities:
� Select and compare multiple carriers
� Manage multiple carrier information and rate shopping
� Access shipping and tracking information
� Integration capability with legacy or enterprise systems
Capabilities like these provide an organization with the tools necessary to better manage its information and ensure that whichever solution selected, it will provide great value. 
Selecting and Comparing Multiple Carriers
The ability to select the right carrier for the right shipment is very challenging. Carriers have different and specific niches that they serve, options offered and charges associated with those selections. Understanding all the differences in terminology and services is necessary to ensure you are getting the best service. Processing all the differences to make an informed decision on every shipment is not as easy or practical as it may seem. Few people have the time to get a thorough understanding and knowledgebase on every carrier and every service they offer. In small- to mid-sized organizations, a shipping manager will most likely be wearing multiple hats and not have the time necessary to shop every shipment for every parcel being shipped.
Software solutions are available to assist a shipping manager in working smarter, not harder. They help reduce the guesswork and put logic and intelligence behind the decisions. Some solutions allow shippers to define the parameters of the shipment and then deliver shipping option information to the shipper so that an informed decision can be made. Whatever the parameter may be, understanding the customer�s expectations is key to delivering the product when they need it.  Solutions today allow a shipper to input shipment size, characteristics and delivery requirements and then with the click of a mouse, provide a shipper with a list of options.  The decision to ship one way versus another is a big decision and shipping the right way can result in improved customer satisfaction and significant cost-savings.
Multiple Carrier Information and Rate Shopping
If you are not currently leveraging a multi-carrier shipping solution, then there is a better way.  Solutions exist to help provide intelligent business information that was unavailable in the past. Carriers provide so many options that it can be daunting to manually sort through and process all the information to ensure the right service is selected every time. Sometimes shippers may select a carrier because they are comfortable with a particular carrier�s shipping interface. Negotiated rates, although competitive, may not always be the best service for deliverability. Software solutions are able to consolidate all the variables and empower the shipper with the information and tools necessary to make educated decisions that save time and money. 
Certified multi-carrier shipping solutions empower the shipper with the tools necessary to easily rate shop all major carriers based on delivery requirements. Specialized services such as LTLs, internal business rules and customer carrier preferences can all be integrated into some solutions to provide a shipper with a more complete picture of the options to consider. Certified solutions support integrated tracking and barcode label printing, providing shippers with a single application interface for processing and managing the entire shipping process. Carrier labels can be generated quickly and efficiently through a single application. 
Shipping and Tracking Information
Today�s shipping solutions provide shippers the ability to easily share shipping and tracking information with virtually anyone who needs it. It can seamlessly transfer information across multiple departments, enabling a finance department to instantly track and report shipping charges or providing real time information to customer service for responding to customer inquiries on their shipments. Additionally, solutions are available that can generate reports for analyzing carrier performance. Delivery tracking information is collected and stored, so that a shipping manager can perform an analysis on carrier reliability. Solutions can even be configured to automatically send out e-mail notifications to customers providing them with shipment and tracking information so they can easily track and trace their packages. So, based on an organization�s needs for communicating information, tools are available to proactively improve the productivity of vital communication throughout your enterprise.
Each year, businesses spend billions of dollars shipping parcels. Some of these shipments are returned as a result of undeliverable addresses. Address correction services charged by carriers can add up quickly if not effectively managed. On average, most carriers charge a $10 fee per parcel for address correction. How much do these costs impact your organization�s bottom line?  Progressive organizations today are exploring solutions to address this problem. One method that can help is to provide deliverable addresses. Some solutions are able to cleanse an address to ensure it�s deliverable. They can fix incorrectly entered Zip Codes, automatically change abbreviations to the appropriate standardized formats and alert operators when an address is identified as incorrect.  Deliverable addresses can significantly reduce costs associated with address correction services.
Standalone Interface to Enterprise Integration
Multi carrier shipping solutions come in a wide range of interfaces to suit virtually any organization�s needs. From a standalone application to a fully integrated solution that links directly into an organization�s enterprise system, solutions today can be configured to meet your business processes. With the wide selection of providers and options, the task of selecting the right multi-carrier solution can be grueling. Value-added resellers (VARs) are positioned to help organizations review the various offerings and match business requirements to the appropriate solution.  Additionally, trained and authorized VARs work with customers on the implementation, integration and training needed to get the best out of your solution. 
Today, shipping departments have the technology to operate more efficiently than ever before. As companies continuously look for ways to control expenses, certified multi-carrier shipping solutions are one way organizations can leverage information and technology to make a real bottom line impact.  They deliver fast results, have low implementation costs and can help you manage time-critical data to make better shipping decisions. 
Charles A. Rothofsky is the marketing communications manager and Steve Strohacker is the national sales director, Revenue-Based Software, for Secap, in W. Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. For more information you can contact Secap at 800-523-0320 or