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Business Intelligence for Parcel Shippers

The story from Business Week, March 2009 was “Business Intelligence Software’s Time is Now“.  The writer tells of companies growing more creative in their use of data-mining tools to extract cost-cutting and revenue-enhancing operational solutions in the wake of recessionary economics. Interesting. But, from our perspective at least, not news.

We assume every company wants to stretch a dollar. It’s not universal, we know, but it’s certainly true for our customer base. Of course, you won’t find the celebrity banking cartel in our customer base either. No coincidence here. But I digress…

A whole lot of companies are spending a whole lot of money on business intelligence tools to mine scads of historical data for “operational optimization jewels” (OOJes). With the exception of some open-source BI resources like Pentaho and Jaspersoft, these tools don’t come cheap. And if they do come cheap, it’s the high implementation costs that offset the less expensive software costs. For the larger enterprise the investment is worth every dime because the returns can be substantial. For the smaller enterprise, good BI may be elusive. Or not?

In the early days of Direct-Recovery we wondered how to best use the gigabytes of shipping data we received each week to best serve our clients. The thought of developing a full Business Intelligence interface to mine for OOJes seemed far-fetched. We focused instead on the task at hand – keeping the customers happy. As customers approached with unique reporting needs, we’d challenge our programmers to bring solutions to satisfy. Once we had sunk the development cost, we took the programming, made it configurable, and added it to our report repository for others to benefit from. We’d tweak things, but the process was largely driven by customer inquiry.

We made the reporting tools available through a central server so our customers could access their full history of shipping. Think of  it as a wiki-intel portal, where customers share logistics focused cost-cutting tools, and we make the best of them available for all our customers.

Today we have over 400+ configurable reports plus an ad hoc writer, graphical dashboard, and tons more posted online for our customers to access, and it’s all thrown in for free. It’s a priceless package – free for customers.

I figure we helped pioneer the Business Intelligence, SaaS, and Free-mium crazes. We just didn’t flaunt it. The one angle we missed was the social network. With LinkedIn hitting $9B in market cap the first day of trading yesterday, and Facebook at $50B, that was a painful miss. We’re now soliciting creative ideas to make parcel auditing the next viral social network craze. Some combo of Lady Gaga meets Facebook, meets Royal Wedding, meets your favorite freight auditor may be in order.

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