Logistics managers have a lot to do to fill their day. Having the best multi-carrier management solution (MCMS) can help not only lighten the load, but also cut costs and keep customers coming back.

Here are 10 things to look for in your next MCMS:

1. Extensive Multi-Carrier Network
While this may seem obvious because of this blog’s title, the meaning of “multi-carrier” has changed over the years. The term was first used to describe software capable of supporting parcel carriers in addition to UPS, who was the first to approve single carrier manifest systems in the 1980s. Through the 1990s, USPS, FedEx, RPS (who would become FedEx Ground), DHL, regionals, and LTL carriers were added to fully automate multi-carrier shipment processing. The rise of eCommerce and omnichannel fulfillment, as well as the wider availability of carrier APIs, have further expanded multi-carrier networks to meet consumer demand for a wider range of delivery alternatives, including drop-shipping, same-day, white-glove, crowdsourced, local couriers, brokers, and other services. Meanwhile, the traditional lines between courier, parcel, and freight modes have blurred as eCommerce continues to drive smaller, more frequent shipments worldwide. Multi-carrier has given way to multi-modal MCMS technology.

2. Enterprise-Class Performance
Traditionally, shipping systems used to focus on one task — creating a label at the end of a conveyor belt. Today, that's not enough. Your MCMS needs to support rating, routing, and expected time of delivery calculations in order entry and shopping carts. Drop-shipping and ship-from-store capabilities are a must in today's competitive retail and eCommerce worlds, which means an MCMS needs to be able to potentially scale securely across thousands of locations (some high volume, some low volume) and tens of thousands of users processing hundreds of thousands of transactions per day.

3. Adaptability
Change is a constant in the dynamic world of supply chain management. IT managers need to be able to easily control app rollouts across the enterprise, user permissions, business rules, and carrier onboarding from a centralized administration console. The ability to reconfigure browser-based app UIs to meet the role-specific needs of each user group within an organization, and change them when business needs change, minimizes the long-term cost of ownership.

4. Multi-Functional Apps
Legacy shipping systems were deployed as point solutions (described by one analyst as a “glorified typewriter”). Today, a best-in-class MCMS services many requirements across an enterprise. It is not only multi-carrier, it is also multi-functional, with a variety of apps capable of supporting routing and rating within order entry or purchasing, real-time tracking and returns within customer service, production shipping within DCs, supplier portals, and step-by-step shipping workflows in offices, mail centers, and stores.

5. Deployment Flexibility
The best MCMS platforms are deployment agnostic, offering on-premise or (private or multi-tenant) cloud implementations. Omnichannel retailers may prefer a hybrid alternative: on-premise deployment for high-speed fulfillment centers and cloud access for ship-from-store, supplier drop-shipping, or office shipping. If on-premise, MCMS software should install on a workstation, server, or multiple load-balanced servers. It is important to evaluate whether cloud-based MCMS deployments support the same level of real-time, secure IoT connectivity to enterprise systems and devices as on-premise installs.

6. Rate Shopping Capabilities
Like the term “multi-carrier,” “rate shopping” was coined in the early days of the shipping software industry to describe the capability of finding the cheapest rate among a few carriers. But cheapest doesn’t necessarily mean best. Today, an MCMS needs to look at a multitude of factors when determining the best carrier service. Expected date and time of delivery, special service availability, customer preference, product type, weight, ship-from location, container type, day of week, and other business routing rules can be just as important in selecting a carrier service as cost. An MCMS should be able to compare aggregate parcels vs. LTL costs. Best carrier services should be available upon API requests from another system or presented in a browser-based app, available in a list or calendar view to anyone across the enterprise.

7. Federated Architecture
If you are responsible for managing shipping for multiple customers, 3PLs, or an endless aisle of suppliers, you need to be able to look across a diverse community of enterprises from atop a single cloud-based administration utility. Just as distributed order management systems (DOMS) and “warehouse within a warehouse” WMS platforms enable you to control multiple inventory segments, a multi-enterprise, “federated” MCMS provides the management tools you need to configure distinct branding, workflows, carrier rates, and business rules for each entity in your community without impacting any other entity.

8. Sustainability Support
A 2019 DHL report showed that “customers were increasingly agitated with wasteful and inefficient packaging,” leading to “consumer derision — and dents to company reputation.” An MCMS with advanced cartonization algorithms not only optimizes your customers’ sustainability experience by reducing waste, but also helps shippers avoid shipping air and incurring unexpected carrier dimensional weight (DIM) fees. The ability to offer omnichannel shipping from inventory locations in closer proximity to customers (stores, pickup locations, lockers, etc.) also demonstrates your company’s commitment to reducing its carbon footprint.

9. Regulatory Compliance
Governmental regulatory agencies are more inclined than ever to crack down on shipper non-compliance. This puts companies at increased risk of sanctions, shipment delays, and executive corporate governance liability. An MCMS should support cross-border customs compliance, including classification, documentation, and restricted party screening. As more products are coming within the purview of dangerous goods shipping requirements for lithium batteries, it is critical to have an MCMS in place that can automatically apply packing rules with cartonization algorithms, classify products, generate dangerous goods documentation, and meet regulatory filing requirements.

10. SaaS Security and Availability
The industry has seen a wide variety of SaaS shipping solutions introduced into the market in the last few years by very small startups. Before you entrust your shipping system provider with access to your company’s data and operational integrity, it is important to evaluate their commitment to security and availability. If you can’t ship, you can’t invoice. If you can’t invoice, well nothing good can come of that. Look at failover and business continuity plans, ISO compliance, GDPR compliance, level of IT staffing, redundancy and backup procedures, monitoring and intrusion protection, data at rest and data in transit encryption, and data security measures to ensure non-disclosure of personal information.

To learn more about what to look for in a multi-carrier management solution, as well as a technology partner to provide it, check out our eBook, “10 Things to Look for in a Perfect Parcel System Partner.”