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Supply Chain Industry Updates

Toss It: The Limitations of Paper in the Supply Chain

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iStock/BrianAJackson

For decades, individuals have been experiencing digital transformation first-hand, whether to see how many blocks away their FedEx delivery driver is so they can sign for a package or opting into digital bank statements and utility bills. The supply chain is undergoing a similar transformation, recognizing the advantages of digital tracking and communication.

Digital files offer greater visibility, increased operational efficiency and the ability to react faster and more accurately than ever before. Instead of storing documents in the back of a warehouse, digital information is searchable, shareable and available from any device. While any change might initially feel uncomfortable, the switch to digital will quickly make managing the supply chain easier for everyone involved.

Pacific Gas and Electric Company, one of the largest combined natural gas and electric energy companies in the United States, had been hindered by errors and delays in transcribing paperwork, which resulted in crews wasting time locating missing installation materials and assets. After going through a digital transformation, new workflows eliminated transcription errors and delays due to paper shuffling while work crews gained real-time visibility into material drops with full context.

Transparency in Transportation

For supply chains still using paper bills of lading (BOL), communication delays and uncertainty are daily concerns. Originally, a bill of lading was the only way to create a record of the shipment. But now, digital bills of lading allow records to be shared by shippers, carriers and retailers.

Supply chain workflow automation provides this information in real time, allowing timely decisions — like whether to take advantage of early payment discounts offered by suppliers — to be made with all relevant information in hand. With constant developments in the field, including route changes and detentions, managing the supply chain requires the ability to maintain current information that paper doesn’t offer.

The True Cost of Paper

Companies spend more than $3 billion per year in detention fees, one of the many hidden costs of using paper. Mistakes inevitably happen, resulting in inaccurate detention timing. Supply chain workflow automation can reduce and remove these mistakes, saving companies money.

In addition to detention fees, paper BOLs cost drivers time and money. Across the board, shippers, carriers and retailers waste resources when drivers get in and out of their trucks to handle paperwork. While an industry-wide standardization is not an easy task, it is a worthwhile investment as implementing a supply chain automation platform increases efficiency. Digitally sharing and receiving information puts drivers back on the road, earning money for both themselves and their employer.

Storing Records

Across many industries, maintaining paper records is cumbersome and inefficient. For the supply chain, physical BOLs often end up in boxes, stacked high in a warehouse. Not only does this take up unnecessary warehouse space, but it also makes it difficult to find and reference BOLs once filed away.

Automating this process with supply chain workflow automation means documents can be stored digitally, freeing up warehouse space, allowing people to find information in the moment of need and positively impacting the sustainability of companies.

Safety Implications

As an industry, we rely on drivers to deliver goods to their intended destinations. Protecting the well-being of a driver is not only important for their own safety, but for the safety of others.  Paper documentation adds an unnecessary risk to the industry. It is one that can be easily avoided with the implementation of new technologies, like supply chain workflow automation.

By allowing drivers to remain in their cab, they’re less likely to encounter dangerous situations, like icy conditions or large pieces of machinery. While the use of eBOLs would benefit the industry on a wider scale, the need to keep drivers safe by reducing unnecessary tasks is key.

The value in moving from paper to digital tracking and communication in the supply chain is clear. Real time information helps shippers, carriers and retailers make timely decisions and react quickly to changes. Paper costs the industry time and money, both when the records are being used and later, as they are stored and referenced.

Most importantly, electronic documentation helps keep drivers safe. From top to bottom, the only part of the supply chain industry that does not benefit from the digital transformation is the paper companies!

Darren Chan is co-founder and vice president of design for Vector, a contactless pickup and delivery platform.

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