Electronic information transfer in a transport chain

Published date26 June 2009
Date26 June 2009
AuthorTommi Inkinen,Ulla Tapaninen,Hennariina Pulli
Subject MatterEconomics,Information & knowledge management,Management science & operations
Electronic information transfer
in a transport chain
Tommi Inkinen
Department of Geography, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland, and
Ulla Tapaninen and Hennariina Pulli
Centre for Maritime Studies, University of Turku, Turku, Finland
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to assess electronic information transfer in logistics
organizations. The paper approaches information transfer as an elemental component of contemporary
business to business (B2B) processes.
Design/methodology/approach – The empirical material concerns companies that together
comprise a logistical chain. The paper uses interview data to show information exchange patterns
within one particular logistics chain. The interviews were designed according to current topics in
information management literature and analyzed with content analysis.
Findings The results show the need to enhance information distribution in B2B operations.
In addition, business to government operations rely, to a large extent, on a combination of paper and
electronic information distribution. The government interface should also be recognized: customs and
information exchange is a major time consumer in international transport.
Research limitations/implications The empirical analysis of a logistic chain is not an easy task.
This is due to the confidential nature of the business information that has to be acquired. Companies
do not want to reveal too many details regarding their B2B relations: the interviewed companies gave
information on data exchange on a general level only. For example, the goal of determining
information content was affected by the reluctance of companies to discuss their business processes.
Originality/value – Three main components to a large extent determine the success of information
and communication technologies implementation in the logistics business process. These are:
reliability and interoperability that are achieved through standardization. This paper exemplifies
these difficulties with empirical data from Finland. It also provides insight into how to carry out
similar studies in different settings.
Keywords Information transfer, Knowledge management, Distributionmanagement, Finland
Paper type Research paper
The implementation of technology in businesses is commonly associated with the
automation of bulk processes of data management (e.g. invoice transfers). Park and
Yun (2004) argued that new information and communication technologies (ICT) are
expected to bring essentially new solutions to business to business (B2B) transactions.
The most visible of these and perhaps the best known are online purchasing services
provided by international actors such as Amazon.com or e-bay.com. “Online shop,”
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
This research paper is a result of collaboration between TYLOGE project funded by Finnish
Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation (Tekes) and European Regional Development
Fund and project 127213 funded by the Academy of Finland. The authors would like to thank
two anonymous referees for their suggestions to improve the paper.
Received 22 December 2008
Revised 9 March 2009
Accepted 27 March 2009
Industrial Management & Data
Vol. 109 No. 6, 2009
pp. 809-824
qEmerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/02635570910968054
on the other hand, refers both to an electronic shopping location (DNS address) or a
physical location distributing online purchased goods as well as normal product sales
(Liang and Chen, 2008; Ha and Forgionne, 2008; Li, 2007; Baker and Song, 2007).
Broadly defined, we are dealing with the supply and demand of goods and
information via an information network. Considering business to customer relations,
terms such as online e-commerce or internet commerce are widely used. These concepts
cover the sales process, product information handling and invoicing (Li, 2007). They are
also included in business to government (B2G) relations, which in logistics and
international trade commonly involve customs. Our approach recognizes the importance
of information transfer between companies before the product reaches the end-user
market. Thus, companies in a logistical chain interact with varying reference groups and
with varying methods of information transfer. These interactions produce vital
information for customer relationship management (CRM) and supply chain
management (SCM), which are interlinked. As part of CRM and SCM, the information
exchange processes are in the heart of modern business operations. Data management,
storing and interchange are major tools of business development and supp ort services.
There are numerous approaches to B2B information exchange in electronic
environments (Becker, 2006). Lawson-Body and O’Keefe (2006) provided a relevant
studyregarding SMEs inter-organizational web tools,including transactionmanagement,
productidentification andlogistics informationdistribution as wellas customer databases
and joint marketingefforts. E-commerce has openedup new possibilities, particularlyfor
small and medium-sized enterprises employingless than 50 people.
This paper examines the extent of and current trends in electronic information
transactions in a logistics chain. The paper presents and discusses information
standards, such as electronic data interchange (EDI), and Extensible Markup Language
(XML) (web browser) solutions, such as Universal Business Language, to transfer
logistics information between organizations in a logistics chain. The three main
questions of the paper are:
(1) What information requirements do companies have within a logistics chain?
(2) What information content do the interviewed companies transfer?
(3) What future challenges and developments do companies expect in technology
Conceptual frame
Logistics service providers
SCM is broadly defined as an integrative philosophy to manage the total flows of
a distributionchannel from the suppliers’ level to production, distributionand ultimately
the end customer. Logistics service providers (LSP) manage, coordinate, and deliver
logisticsactivities on behalfof a shipper(Choy et al., 2006). Thistask requires, more or less,
integrationbetween the LSP and the other partiesin the logistic chain. In orderto respond
to the customersflexibly, it is necessary for thecompanies in the chain to collaborateand
integrate as a whole (Zhang et al., 2006).
Ideally, efficient SCM is based on information flow and full visibility over the chain.
However, particularly large companies use closed SCM models where the visibility is
minimal,if existing at all. As anexample, large operatorssuch as Maersk use systemsthat
best fit their needs as Fremont (2007) indicated. Still, for SMEs interoperable and visible

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