It was the late 1990s, and FedEx customers were clamoring for a quick and easy way to navigate the fast-paced world of international trade.
So Robert B. Carter, executive vice president and CIO at FedEx, assembled a team and set about developing FedEx Global Trade Manager, a free, Web-based guide to international shipping for small and midsize businesses.
"We designed this around the customers' needs," says Karen Rogers, FedEx's vice president of e-commerce marketing, who worked with Carter on the project.
The project, which began in 1997 and was launched in August 2000, was finished on time and on budget. It was originally used by customers arranging shipments to or from the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Hong Kong and Puerto Rico. Since then, FedEx has expanded the service to 20 countries.
FedEx designed its own Web-based system and integrated it into an Oracle Corp. database. The application helps shippers understand global trade regulations and prepare the appropriate import or export forms based on the commodity being shipped and the countries of origin and destination. It also alerts users to restrictions on shipping certain commodities, lets them know if a country is under embargo and provides information on special licensing requirements.
In February, Global Trade Manager began offering shippers a tool for determining government charges and fees for international shipments, including import duty, value-added tax and excise duty, so they can estimate the total landed costs of their packages.
"Global Trade Manager makes it easier to ship internationally, which can be an intimidating experience," Carter says.
"It allows customers to do import/export documentation in a straightforward fashion," he says. "Millions of Web users have access to FedEx.com, and we ship tens of thousands of international packages a day from [the Web site]. We are giving them access to technology they wouldn't otherwise have."
Donald Broughton, a transportation analyst at A.G. Edwards & Sons Inc., a consultancy in St. Louis, says that although FedEx was the first company to offer such a service, other companies, including Atlanta-based United Parcel Service Inc., now have similar tools.
Although Global Trade Manager is offered in only 20 countries, Broughton says the addition of the taxes and duties estimator makes the application more valuable to customers.
Memphis-based FedEx continues to measure the project's success by tracking the increase in the number of customers who use Global Trade Manager as well as the growth of international shipments, Carter says.
Currently, 70,000 registered customers use the services provided, and that number is growing 300 percent year over year, according to Rogers.
Although Carter won't release the project's financial impact on shareholders, he says it is "among the most profitable at FedEx."
Technology projects that are laser-focused on customer needs are the ones that win approval from the executive board at FedEx. In fact, because it increased international capabilities and offered payback to customers, the project was well-received throughout the company from the start, Carter says.