What is master data, and why is it so important for hazmat transport?

What exactly are you shipping?

Simple question, right? Not at all. It turns out a lot of shippers don’t know exactly what they’re shipping, and that lack of knowledge has a profound ripple effect on the entire supply chain.

I’m talking here about master data—complete, detailed information about a product’s components, makeup, dimensions and origins. This is the information that forms the basis of every process required for compliant Dangerous Goods shipping. Yet many shippers simply don’t have it.

According to the 2019 Dangerous Goods Confidence Outlook, our annual survey, data collection and maintenance are key challenges:

  • 45% of organizations report data collection that’s sporadic, inconsistent or not done at all.
  • 55% of organizations say their supply chain partners’ data collection is sporadic, inconsistent or not done at all.

What exactly is this master data? Why is it so hard to collect? And how does it impact hazmat transport?

What exactly is master data?

Here’s the difference between knowing what you’re shipping and knowing exactly what you’re shipping:

Knowing what you’re shipping: We’re shipping a large lithium battery for a cordless lawn mower

Knowing exactly what you’re shipping: We’re shipping a lithium-ion battery with the following characteristics:

  • 56V, 420 Wh, 7.5 Ah
  • Weight: 3 kg
  • Dimensions: 23 cm x 9 cm x 9 cm
  • Manufactured by: XYZ Industries, Shenzhen, Guangdong, People’s Republic of China
  • Etc., etc.

Now, imagine a third-party logistics provider who gets a contract to transport 1,000 of these batteries every week. If you’re responsible for those shipments, which set of information will help you to make these shipments efficiently, compliantly and safely?

Why is master data so hard to collect?

If you work for a manufacturer shipping your own product, master data is relatively easy to come by. After that, it gets more challenging, due to …

  • Multiple hand-offs across supply chain partners. From raw material sourcing to subcomponent assembly to finished goods to distribution, every time materials change hands there’s a risk that data will be lost, altered or simply not transferred.
  • Disparate data systems between supply chain partners. Data in one format doesn’t always translate to another format—especially if it’s processed manually. Different ERPs, TMSs and WMSs may all store the same data differently.
  • Fragmentation in assembly and deliveries. In assembling a lithium battery device, for example, different components may come from different sources—from different countries, in different languages—on different schedules.
  • Product changes. Products change frequently, and suppliers may pass that information on separately. The updated information may not reach the shipping or warehousing departments because the quantity and pricing of the goods may not have changed.

Now, take those hurdles and multiply them by the dozens of steps involved in the supply chain—classification, preparation, shipping, acceptance, delivery—and you might start to wonder how any data ever gets shared accurately anywhere.

And that’s before we even bring Dangerous Goods into the mix.

Master data is the key to compliant hazmat transport

Whenever a new customer asks us about implementing our Dangerous Goods Information System (DGIS) software, the first question we usually ask is, “What kind of DG shipments are you processing?”

Easy question, right? Not always, because the person looking into the DG software isn’t always the person who’s in charge of the DG data.

We see a lot of segregation of Dangerous Goods data, because many organizations perceive hazmat as scary and expensive. But here’s the thing: Without the proper data, no technology will work for you correctly all the time.

That’s why one of our goals with any customer is to eliminate fragmentation—to have all the data available when, where and how you need it. The earlier you get it, the easier it is to make it part of your process.

As you progress in data collection and management, keep the needs of your internal partners in mind. For example, if you’re in purchasing or product management, ask your colleagues in warehousing and shipping what information they need to process shipments efficiently and safely. Don’t assume they have all the data they need.

What’s more, the information you need to make a compliant DG shipment isn’t lightyears away from the data you already have and need  for invoicing, inventory, RFPs or many other applications. So, gathering the data you need for shipping DG will help you in other areas, too.

Having complete, accurate master data is the key to streamlining compliant hazmat transport, and it can help unlock efficiencies across all the locations and departments in your organization. And it all starts with the answer to one question:

What exactly are you shipping?

How can you start getting your master data collected and organized? Send me an email, or call us at 800.621.5808.

Make sure your shipments are safe and in complete compliance with a full line of solutions from Labelmaster—a full-service provider of goods and services for hazardous materials and Dangerous Goods professionals, shippers, transport operators and EH&S providers.


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