After 40 years of document imaging and form recognition, a lot of paper continues to flow in an industry that is growing and thriving on fast, efficient processes: logistics.
It is interesting to think of moving goods from A to B as a growth industry. The increase in e-commerce where products can be sold worldwide has increased the demand for shipping. Even though logistics is benefiting from this modern, tech-driven juggernaut of online commerce, there are aspects of this industry that are working with “last century” technology—primarily, the human-oriented processes that deal with hand-offs, acceptance and payment for shipped goods.
Dealing with Paperwork
What is not well-known is that shipping a product from the seller to the recipient often involves different carriers. Each time the product passes hands, paperwork is created. Additionally, goods shipped to and from overseas go through customs which creates additional paperwork.
The need to manually handle these documents and inability to directly process the data within them leads to slower, inefficient processes. This ultimately leads to unwanted shipping delays.
The challenge with these documents, especially waybills, which are the internal records that document the entire flow of a particular item, and bills of lading which are issued to the shipper, is that they can vary in layout. This presents a problem when the shipper needs to enter this data into their own recordkeeping systems. Manual data entry is often the only solution since it is difficult to construct rules to accommodate the variance of these documents in automated systems.
Achieving High Levels of Automation
Problems with paperwork encountered in customs include the customs form itself along with the certificate of origin. This data also needs to be recorded into systems of record. Even though these documents are more “form-like” where data is oriented in a more-consistent manner, the process of manually entering this data into systems is costly.
While the push to have a completely paper-free process is a longer-term goal, paper doesn’t need to be removed in order to achieve high levels of automation. The first step should be to remove the paper documentation as soon as possible within the process, ideally using mobile document capture functions to turn paper into digital formats that can be easily uploaded into a system.
Drivers picking up goods can simply take a picture of the documentation. Customs agents can do the same as soon as it is received. Once uploaded, automated document classification and data extraction can remove much of what is typically a manual function. To deal with variance of data on waybills and bills of lading, there is emerging machine learning capability that can be “field trained” during a live production process that adapts to new document formats and data types without any specific creation of rules.
Additional benefits can also be realized such as a much-faster process of validating the data on these documents. Carriers can quickly identify missing paperwork or data on existing documents that does not match the data on a waybill. Customs offices can more-quickly check the validity of a certain shipment of goods against databases.
Ultimately, even though the paper is not completely removed, by treating the physical documents as “transient data storage” and capturing the actual data as early in the process as possible, a digital process can be realized.
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