For centuries, paper has been trusted to deliver important information. Much like doctors once depended on written prescriptions to properly medicate their patients, the supply chain relies on physical documents to communicate shipment details among shippers, carriers and retailers. Unlike the medical field, however, the supply chain has yet to digitize one of its own key documents: the bill of lading.
In an industry inundated with paper, it’s a mystery how operations will continue to efficiently expand to reach $41.7 billion by the end of 2026. Paper costs the supply-chain industry upwards of $3 billion every year (not counting the additional price tag of paper, ink and printing). In addition, paper results in a lack of visibility, efficiency and sustainability, as well as undermining the safety of drivers. With the cons of paper more than outweighing the pros, it’s time the supply chain underwent an industry-wide transformation.
Paper Is Bad for Business
You’ve just opened a new credit card. Upon receiving your first statement via the U.S. Postal Service, you’re asked to enroll in electronic statements (e-statements). Why? In a world of digital transformation, your credit provider sees the value of e-statement distribution, including faster delivery, advanced security, statement callback capabilities and overall sustainability. In an industry responsible for delivering grocery store essentials and, more recently, the COVID-19 vaccine, the adoption of a digital supply-chain workflow automation platform is a battle yet to be conquered.
Disadvantages of paper in the supply chain include:
- Limited visibility, leaving suppliers and retailers unaware of pickup and delivery times;
- Inability to make real-time decisions based on evolving developments in the field;
- Increased risk of errors due to unreadability as well as lost documentation;
- Driver inefficiencies, including the delivery of BOLs by hand, reducing time spent on the road;
- Overall risk of health and safety of industry employees, brought on by unnecessary face-to-face interactions, icy conditions and large machinery, and
- Negative connotations for environmental footprint and corporate social responsibility.
The Solution: Workflow Automation
Fortunately, there are industry partners who see paper as outdated, including the Consumer Brands Association and its Contactless Delivery Taskforce. The taskforce and it’s more than 50 enterprise industry participants recognize the hindrances of paper and are pushing for digital transformation industry-wide.
Supply-chain workflow automation answers the industry’s antiquated processes, overhauling the inefficiencies of paper. As a result of implementing a digital platform, the industry gains visibility as well as the ability to reallocate the billions of dollars wasted in inaccurate reporting every year. Common automation platforms include electronic bills of lading, mobile capture and driver workflow, each an important aspect of a true industry-wide digital transformation.
Electronic BOL: The bill of lading is the most important document in the logistics industry. A routine BOL includes pertinent information for the shipper, carrier and retailer, including count, type and commodity of a delivery. By digitizing BOLs, involved parties experience streamlined operations while keeping warehouse teams and carrier partners safe.
Mobile Capture: Some components of the industry will take longer to adopt supply-chain workflow automation than others. To combat inconsistency, mobile capture allows drivers to capture physical BOLs and additional paperwork with the click of a button. Furthermore, mobile capture aids in faster payment processes for all industry partners.
Driver Workflow: Drivers are responsible for more than delivering goods from Point A to Point B. In fact, one of their biggest responsibilities comes in the form of a couple of ounces of paper. Without a digital platform, drivers are subject to tracking mileage, reporting dwell time and truck inspections via paper, oftentimes resulting in inaccurate reports and hindering payment. With driver workflow, carriers, shippers and retailers receive their product and payment accurately and on time.
In the world of supply chain, paper is limiting the industry. It’s reasonable to believe that it takes just one major supplier, carrier or retailer to adopt supply-chain workflow automation, and the rest will follow suit. However, individual supply-chain partners itching to contribute to an industry-wide standardization can take practical steps to expedite change. By implementing electronic BOLs, driver workflow and mobile capture, companies can advocate for the need to relieve stress felt by shippers, retailers, carriers and 3PLs.
Brian Belcher is co-founder and chief operating officer of Vector, a contactless pickup and delivery platform.