Span-Alaska freezes out legacy supply-chain system

Linking facilities and tracking equipment throughout the delivery process pleases customers

Imagine hundreds of 18-wheelers rolling into Span-Alaska's warehouse every week, each carrying as much as 28 tons of cargo from hundreds of different shippers. Each trailer must be off-loaded, and every manifest must be sent to the back office, where it is logged in and rated before goods are reloaded onto containers. And the job doesn't end there.

The transportation-services company must coordinate shipments and delivery schedules by syncing tasks such as vessel arrival, container load consolidation, and most importantly, the rating of each shipment.

"Rating is the ability to take a shipment that is going from, say, Seattle to Anchorage and pricing that out," says Duncan Wright, director of business strategy at Horizons Services Group.

Now imagine a rating system consisting of shipping instructions written with different colored pens and with all of the rating information kept in paper books and folders -- that's how Span-Alaska had operated for 20 years.

Not anymore. Span-Alaska asked the Horizon Services Group to turn its paper-based system into a real-time, automated rating system that gives both shippers and Span-Alaska managers instant online access to that information. It took a solid year, but now Span-Alaska has a system that links its facilities throughout Alaska, tracks equipment and customer shipments throughout the entire delivery process, and raises the level of service by providing timely information to customers, without adding significant operating costs that would drive up fees.