�Globalization is synonymous with increased risk and complexity. In light of today�s highly dynamic and time-sensitive business environment, there is less margin for error.�
            � Adrian Gonzalez, director, ARC Advisory Group
During this decade, we�ve seen unprecedented growth in the number of businesses with global operations, be it distribution centers in strategic locations around the world, manufacturing operations in Mexico or Asia or outsourcing contracts in the Pacific Rim. Regardless of country of origin or destination, goods and packages must move efficiently, cost-effectively and reliably across the value chain. And companies are clamoring for software solutions to automate their global shipments. 
The bad news: A definitive global shipping solution is not yet available. The good news: Its arrival is not far away. Further-more, the global capabilities of small-package shipping solutions currently available are expanding, and carriers are becoming more responsive to demands for a global shipping solution.
Diversity Creates the Challenge
So what�s the hold-up on creating a global shipping solution that lets companies ship internationally with ease? Simply stated, it�s the complexity and diversity of our world. Currencies, languages, import/export regulations and carriers differ from country to country � and a truly global shipping solution must have the capacity to account for these differences. Such a system must have the capacity to translate languages, convert currencies and store information on local carriers and requirements. And keep in mind that the �big three� � FedEx, UPS and DHL � aren�t the only carriers available in some countries. Europe, for example, has as many as eight other carriers that can be deployed for local and regional deliveries.
But let�s look beyond the challenges for a moment. What is the definition of a global shipping solution? Gonzalez defines it as �a scalable software platform that can automate standardized, consistent and auditable shipping processes across the global enterprise.� In addition, a true global product will:
            � Automate shipping from the global origins served by the carriers to the global destinations served by the carriers.
            � Support all carriers necessary to support your local and international shipping needs.
            � Rate shipments, create labels and print or transmit manifest information as required by the carrier.
            � Generate and transmit all necessary international shipping documentation.
            � Provide a single database of shipments from which consolidated reporting is available.
            � Support multiple languages and currencies.
In addition to these characteristics, several other key aspects must be considered before automating operations:
            1. Do the carriers you work with have multiple technologies to support shipping from different parts of the world?
            2. Do you need to renegotiate or expand your contract so the rates, services and conditions apply to non-US origins?
            3. Do you have trained personnel to create and review export documentation?
            4. Is there support for all the carriers you need to manage and automate global shipping ? A library of regional carriers is often critical for automation.
            5. Don�t overlook support � there must be hotline support  in time zones in which you operate.
Can your company benefit from a global shipping solution? Many sound business reasons justify the investment. The measurable benefits fall into three categories � process automation and enforcement, reduced cost of ownership and information needs.
Process Automation and Enforcement
Most companies handle shipments across their locations with diverse systems, no systems or a mixture thereof. A global small-package shipping solution automates carrier processing at all of your locations and ensures the process for initiating and tracking shipments is consistent across all locations and for all carriers.
A global shipping solution also enables you to impose and consistently enforce company-wide rules regarding the selection of carriers and services. Say, for example, you have a global contract with FedEx. A global shipping solution ensures your warehouses in Singapore, Frankfurt and Toronto can access and utilize the correct rates; tools built into the system guide them to the services that are most cost-effective under the contract. Built-in reporting tools enable you to monitor the services and carriers being used.
A global shipping solution also improves timeliness of delivery. The right solution will ensure accurate completion of international shipping documents, reducing the risk that valuable goods will be held up at customs. It also enables timely transmission of data to carriers, ensuring packages are efficiently introduced into the processing stream. The right global solution offers consolidated tracking. Users at all your locations can view one screen to determine the status of a shipment.
Reduced Cost of Ownership
Implementing multiple solutions in multiple countries is a high-cost proposition for your company. A global shipping solution reduces installation and maintenance costs substantially because it can be launched to all locations via the company server. This also means a single IT resource is needed to support global implementation, a single test process can be employed before going live, and a single integration with order processing or other enterprise resource planning systems. And, when carriers make changes or new software versions become available, the changes need only be uploaded one time to provide access to all. The right solution will give you additional visibility into your operations worldwide.
Information Needs
A global small-package shipping solution gives you access to data on shipping activities across all locations. This information enables you to evaluate shipping costs and implement rules to control costs. It can also be used to support negotiations with carriers for global contracts that include reduced rates based on volume. It gives you the ability to quickly answer questions from customers and other locations about shipment status.
Moving at the Speed of Change
More than anything, a global shipping solution helps your company keep pace with the changes that impact the cost and timely delivery of international shipments. When changes are coming thick and fast, companies with a global shipping solution � and the right vendor behind it � can keep up.
Gonzalez points out several vendor traits that ensure maximum value from your investment in a global small-package shipping solution. He suggests investing in solutions that have a clear value proposition and quick time-to-benefit, as well as acquiring a solution from a proven and financially stable provider. He also suggests making sure that the vendor you choose has a global presence and can support you from multiple geographies. This includes development of multilingual training programs that support implementation of the solution. Keep your eye on the shipping solution market � new global solutions are coming soon.
Johanna Boller is director of product line management for Pitney Bowes Distribution Solutions. She can be contacted at johanna.boller@pb.com.