Automated System Aids Communication in Seafood Supply Chain

By Claire Swedberg

The Fishin' Company's EDI software, provided by TrueCommerce, has automated the company's ordering, fulfillment and billing processes to ensure fresh fish is shipped efficiently and accurately to customers.

The Fishin' Co. has deployed electronic data interchange (EDI) software to improve its supply chain efficiency and share data with its business partners. The solution, provided by TrueCommerce, enables the seafood company to automate order fulfillment, thereby increasing efficiency and reducing the cost of manual labor and the potential for errors. With the technology in place, the company is able to meet retailer mandates for automated order processing.

The Fishin' Co., based in Pennsylvania, is the largest importer of tilapia in the world, as well as one of the largest importers of frozen fish. It operates processing sites worldwide, supplying seafood for retailers, wholesalers and food service companies. The company offers both private-label and Fishin'-branded packaging options throughout the United States. Its customers include Walmart, Aldi, Delhaize and SuperValu.

Traditionally, The Fishin' Co. had managed the fulfillment of orders with business partners (third-party logistics [3PL] companies) and retailer customers manually. It would receive orders for fish products from its retailer customers, locate the products required at third-party locations, and then notify the provider of the order request. That process meant operators were receiving and sending e-mails, as well as accessing spreadsheets, which meant they needed access portals to view and manually enter data, according to Ryan Tierney, TrueCommerce's VP. Because individuals had to take time out of their schedule to access or type in order data, the manual system resulted in high labor costs and the potential for manual errors at The Fishin' Co.'s own site or at a 3PL location.

In recent years, Tierney says, many retailers and wholesalers have been requiring their suppliers to adopt EDI systems due to the significant cost savings for procurement. Providing real-time visibility of upcoming shipments via EDI is key for retailers, Tierney explains, so that they can know what was shipped, how it was packed and when they can expect it to arrive. Many retailers will issue chargebacks if they believe an EDI advance shipping notice does not match the physical shipment or if there are other data-related errors, which can result in more time spent investigating, as well as reordering costs.

The Fishin' Co. decided to implement the system not only to meet retailer mandates, but also to gain its own efficiency benefits. First and foremost, the EDI system was deployed as a cloud-based solution by which the company could receive, view and respond to order data. In the long term, however, the company wanted to integrate the solution with its back-end ERP system so users could automatically receive orders, and so that order fulfillment with its 3PL provider could be automated.

Therefore, the seafood company began working with TrueCommerce to create an EDI system and integrate the technology with its Microsoft Dynamics NAV ERP. The technology is now deployed with 14 customers and several 3PL companies. With the integration functionality, Tierney says, "We integrate it down into their back-end system, which in this case is the ERP. They don't have to go to our system." Instead, the solution automatically takes new EDI orders from customers and automatically generates a sales order in the ERP.

With the EDI solution, the retailer provides raw order data related to the TrueCommerce portal. TrueCommerce's services manage and maintain connectivity, as well as data mapping for The Fishin' Co. The solution receives each order, Tierney says, and "maps it to something that is human-readable and integrates it" with the ERP, while also managing communication and mapping with the 3PL. "From a user perspective," he explains, "they log into their ERP and see their new orders."

The solution provides an audit log of all orders and also offers exception handling. Thus, if an incorrect order is placed—for instance, if data is in an inappropriate format—the solution will identify the problem. "In order to get data into the ERP system," Tierney says, "there is pre-validation that occurs," which reduces the risk of inaccurate orders. The system can automatically send back an invoice at the time an order is received. In the meantime, the 3PL provider ships the ordered products and sends shipping notification automatically to The Fishin' Co.

Some retailers require acknowledgement for order fulfillment, Tierney notes, and the TrueCommerce solution can provide that feature, though The Fishin' Co. does not require it. The time savings for the seafood company have not been specifically measured, he adds, though he estimates that it offers such savings for every order. "If you're getting 100 orders and typing orders in manually," he states, "even if the savings is a minute per order, that could be significant." For 3PLs, the EDI also saves labor and prevents errors.

The deployment required minimal customization, Tierney reports, in terms of business processes for the ERP integration. The greatest challenge has been in ensuring information is being shared properly between supply chain members. For instance, he says, "You need to make sure you're sharing lot information to and from the ERP for historical purposes." Since the initial deployment in late 2019, the technology has been implemented for the retailer that mandated the technology, as well as for the seafood company's other 14 customers.

The deployment is part of a trend among retailers and brands to improve the efficiency of the supply chain, Tierney says. "We've been helping businesses for years connecting their 3PLs to exchange fulfillment transactions through an automated process," he states, adding that eliminating phone calls, manual entry and human intervention has provided greater flexibility in shipping windows, since faster communication provides the 3PL with more time to prepare. "From a supply chain [perspective], it's all about efficiency and getting products to the customers."

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the company reports that it has been seeing growth in the sale of its EDI solution for enabling direct-to-consumer shipping. Businesses that have not previously had an online presence are seeking ways to sell online now, and to ship goods directly to shoppers. "We definitely have seen growth on that front," Tierney says.