Aug. 11 2006 12:36 PM

Few things have transformed the international value chain more than advances in information technology (IT). The development of high-speed, low-cost electronic applications have changed the way we do business. And the logistical links in that chain are no exception.


The value chain is just that a chain of events leading up to the satisfactory delivery of a product in the hands of the consumer. The "value," obviously, comes from the contribution made to that safe delivery by every player along the way. And they all play an equally important role.


Though the logistics industry is mainly concerned with the physical transportation, one cannot consider only one or two links in isolation. The shipper has to be not only concerned with the successful placement of the product in the recipient's hands, but also the satisfaction of that customer with the service and the product itself. And that starts at the beginning of the chain. We must live up to the promise we made when we first made our offer.


In each of the value chain steps, advances in IT have greatly eased the task of the international shipper.


Research is now at our beck and call with the vast amount of information available through the Internet. Only a decade ago, one would have had to rely entirely on paper documents, travel and/or uncertain local knowledge to research and prepare a business case a task that could have taken months. Assembling that information can now be done in hours.


Preparing and printing promotions is now almost completely digital. Without leaving your office, you can design and prepare your promotional production in the US and print at one or more points of distribution throughout the world.


You can distribute your message worldwide via economical consolidated mail techniques such as International Surface Air Lift (ISAL) and International Priority Airmail (IPA) or via e-commerce at costs that are a fraction of what you would have paid just a few years ago.


And when it comes to fulfillment, advances in IT have now eliminated much of the cumbersome detail and guess-work that plagued the industry for decades. Advance electronic manifests smooth the way for customs; track and trace keeps the company and customer advised of progress every step of the way; delivery is instantly confirmed; and claims and questions are handled electronically with speed and efficiency. And the big prize is that the cost of doing business has plummeted. The cost of an e-mail is essentially free, and intercontinental telephone rates are a tiny fraction of those of a decade ago.


In a presentation at the National Postal Forum in Nashville, Tennessee last spring, Terry Kraft, Director of Operations at Swanson Health Products (SHP), a North Dakota foods supplement provider, explained how electronic communication turned night into day for them. Before turning to Global Shipping Solutions for assistance, SHP was doing it the hard way. They did not have a good understanding of what products could be shipped to foreign countries, a problem that was solved when they learned to go online and find the answer with a few strokes in the APEC Tariff Database (


Also, SHP could not provide advance information to its international customers on accurate shipping costs, duties and taxes. This is now provided with the Postal Service's Landed Cost Option, which facilitates the prepayment of duties and taxes, preventing unpleasant "surprises" at the door at time of delivery. USPS Global Shipping Software also produces automated customs forms. Previously, all shipping labels and customs forms were prepared manually. Kraft's company was also experiencing problems with delivery confirmation, and USPS Global Express Mail provided tracking for their shipments.


From order-taking (via Web site or phone) to product delivery, using the latest techniques of IT, USPS Global Solutions has stepped in at almost every point in the value chain to help SHP grow its international business.


Richard Miller is Managing Partner of Market Response International, a marketing consultancy he founded in 1980. He is the author of Multinational Direct Marketing: The Methods and The Markets, published by McGraw-Hill and is Editor-in-Chief of The World Guide to Direct Mail Marketing, published by the Universal Postal Union. Barry Burns is International Product Manager at USPS Headquarters in Washington, DC. He has served on the Direct Marketing Association's International Council Operating Committee and worked on product initiatives with the Universal Postal Union (UPU) and International Post Corporation (IPC).