How to Implement Business Intelligence Solutions (for Shipping Organisations)

  1. Define the Scope of your BI project
  2. Decide what data you should use
  3. Cleanse your Data
  4. What KPIs do you need to track?
  5. Reporting and Dashboard Options
  6. Choosing a System
  7. Implementation and Timeframes
  8. Measure for Success

1. Define the Scope of your Business Intelligence Project

Firstly, you need to define the scope of your project. There are many aspects of your business that you can put under the microscope. It might be easiest to think of them from the perspective of the departments that have been created to manage these activities.

From our perspective, as a Freight Consultancy we are naturally focussed on the supply chain departments: Warehouse, Logistics, Operations and even Customer Service as it pertains to distribution management.

Will you start with a narrow focus or a wide focus? For example, you might want to focus on cost alone. Or you could include delivery KPIs in conjunction with cost, to receive a more complete picture.

2. Decide what Data you should Use

Data that is used in processing and delivering sales orders is the short answer here. Understand where all of this data is captured; within what systems it resides. If you have a gap in automation and data collection you may want to start with plugging that gap first.

Alternatively that data might be captured within a bespoke Business Intelligence system fit for the purpose of analysing your freight data.

If, for example, you capture Group & Cost Centre data, along with invoice data on sales orders within your import you can then obviously drilldown on that data in any reporting that you do.

A previously posted article on Freight Business Intelligence goes into this topic in much more detail.

3. Cleanse your Data

It’s important to ensure that before you implement business intelligence systems you are working with clean data. What is meant by that is that it is current data and has been checked to ensure it conforms with any contracts you have and that is its accurate. We have learnt of many occasions when conducting freight audits for our customers where old rates were being used, and surcharges such as fuel levies need to be regularly monitored for changes.

Furthermore, there have been many occasions unfortunately where the shipper had not authorised a change to their rates e.g. a change to the cubic conversion used.

If you use an ongoing carrier invoice reconciliation process, you will be immediately alerted to any change from your contract, on fuel levies, or carrier accounting systems that could lead to a unauthorised, unexpected increase in weekly freight invoices.

Clean data in, clean analytics out; it’s that simple. If you don’t start with clean data, and monitor to ensure it stays accurate to current contracts, then your analysis will lose its sharpness, leading to bad decision making.

4. What KPIs do you need to Track?

Speaking to key stakeholders of these departments will enable you to decide the key criteria that your newly implemented Business Intelligence system must monitor closely. What’s important to them for daily decisions, along with longer term outcomes? What will help them do their job at the best of their capabilities? Selecting the best Freight & Logistics KPIs is and capturing that data in easy-to-interpret graphs and charts is important for assessing the success of the Business Intelligence system that you implement, and indeed for the wider goals of the business with regard to warehouse and distribution processes.

You can learn more about the importance of selecting criteria to align with your business strategies here.

5. Reporting and Dashboard Options

Reams of data in an Excel spreadsheet is a subpar method of reporting on complex matters. Excel has great functionality for filtering and for interpreting data as pie charts, and graphs and is a step up for relatively simple requirements. However, if you then want to drilldown further into the data when you notice an unexpected change, you have to get IT involved to do this.

Having an interactive dashboard that accesses warehoused data for trend and historic analysis is what is needed today to make the most of your data and stay competitive. Having a cloud-based system enables a wider range of staff to quickly access pertinent information that helps them perform their roles. Todays dashboards frequently offer real time, or near real time, data as well which is crucial for pivoting quickly due to an unexpected event.

6. Choosing a System

There are many options these days when it comes to implementing Business Intelligence Solutions for your shipping organisation. We would suggest that having a system that is cloud-based would be an important criterion these days as staff may need to access the data from a range of places and devices. Cloud-based systems also offer a higher level of security.

A system that has been designed by experts in shipping is also going to be of high value, in particular if that solution comes with consultative advice from logistics experts to ensure that you are alerted to any issues and one that can assist with implementing a solution ensures that you are making the most of the system you’ve implemented.

The above steps show you how to implement Business Intelligence systems, but they also reveal the work that is required to set that up. Why reinvent the wheel? If you can find a system that generally suits your needs, uses accurate data i.e. has gone through a reconciliation process for true costing data then this may be a desirable option for you. And yes, at Freight Controller we have created just such a solution


7. Implementation and Timeframes

Implementation & timeframes will differ depending on whether you are building a system from scratch, taking a system ‘out of the box’ or modifying a system to suit your needs.  A DIY bespoke system will require a focus on designing the Dashboards and connecting systems, including data warehousing system to Dashboards, etc.  Implementation is also impacted by whether the solution easily plugs in to your current supply chain systems to capture the data. If you need to consult with various vendors that supplied the software systems to get the systems to talk with one another, that adds extra third-party delays.

An ‘out of the box’ type of niche solution could be up & running in a week, perhaps two if adding reconciliation processes, and that would be the minimum timeframe.

8. Measure for Success

Measuring success of any project is of course defined by the goals you want to achieve from implementation. Firstly, most companies implementing this type of solution are looking at ‘increasing visibility.’ Ownership of data is what you want to achieve by capturing all relevant data in the system.

Ultimate success is if the system enables staff to alter their daily tactics to get a better result i.e. improve efficiency, reduce costs. And if these tactics add up to a demonstrable positive impact on a key KPI, which you should be able to see in both monthly averages data and trending data. We expand upon this subject in our article: aligning freight goals to business strategies through data.

Our clients typically see a reduction in freight costs of between 10-20% on average, (can be higher or lower, depending on a range of variables), on their annual freight expenditure when they are guided by our logistics expertise in implementing solutions to issues uncovered by the data.

If you are not seeing any measurable benefits in productivity and cost savings within the relevant departments you should look to tweak your system, or ensure that your team are making proper use of the system to advise their strategies and in collaborating with one another and your suppliers and customers. Don’t just ‘set it and forget it.’


Whilst it may take some time and effort to implement Business Intelligence solutions for your shipping organisation, if you follow the above steps and put in the ground work upfront it will be well worth your efforts. Providing for your team the tools to quickly adjust as the data informs you of changing inputs is key to smoothing out any potential diversions from your goals to ensure you stay on track.  

You have the ‘How To’ Checklist steps above to assist with implementing this internally. We hope you find this helpful. If, however, you would prefer assistance with this type of project please contact us for a free consultation meeting.

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