Nothing exposes our vulnerabilities more than an unexpected crisis or disruption. The pandemic wasted no time in showing every crack in the global supply chain, as items we all took for granted became hot commodities.
While initial scarcities in some goods have abated, global supply chains are still struggling as the pandemic lingers. Various products and raw materials are still in short supply, and ports are experiencing unprecedented logjams. Even when the goods on board are finally unloaded, there’s often not enough trucks to deliver them to their final destination.
Transportation and logistics operations are challenged by the virus and its cascading effects on a daily basis. Though the immediate backlog will eventually subside, T&L companies need to evaluate their ability to not only survive the next big disruption, but also to thrive and separate themselves from the competition.
Successful T&L providers have developed core capabilities that allow them to provide a great customer experience and operate more efficiently, even in difficult conditions. Let’s take a closer look at a few of these capabilities, how automation can help you excel at them and how three T&L providers leveraged them to become more agile and resilient—the necessary characteristics to battle not only the pandemic, but any disruption to the supply chain.
Delivering Exceptional Customer Service to Ensure Retention
Customers were more inclined to understand the shortages and delays during the initial aftermath of COVID-19, but patience is wearing thin. Clients aren’t going to tolerate being kept in the dark. They demand updates on their order status, and they want that status to be readily available any time they inquire. Fortunately, automation gives transportation and logistics providers all the information they need to provide superior service to customers so they can better handle delays.
Davies Turner is an international freight forwarding company and logistics specialist based in the UK. They provide shipping and logistics for land, air and sea freight, as well as warehouse management and distribution services. Given the volume and breadth of operations, when a customer asked for an order status update, the old manual approach was simply not working. Staff had to search tracking systems, visit the relevant carrier’s website or, worse yet, call or email the carrier. Data was entered manually, and it took an average of 10 to 15 minutes to provide the status update. With the current backlog at ports and other shipping delays, customers need frequent and real-time updates so they can respond swiftly and appropriately to disruptions and delays.
To overcome this problem, the company implemented robotic process automation (RPA) to build software robots that extract and integrate data from internal logistics and warehouse management systems (WMS), external carrier tracking solutions and third-party websites. Data from a variety of sources can be accessed quickly, and shipments are tracked in real time as they move through the supply chain. The elimination of manual data entry has greatly improved accuracy, and the system is so simple to use that even non-developers can set up and deploy bots in just 15 to 30 minutes. All shipments (100 percent) are tracked—even as the company has grown—without adding headcount, thanks to the deployment of 520 RPA bots.
The best part? Customers have access to on-demand insights into stock and shipments and receive automated updates. When an order leaves the warehouse, the customer gets an email notification which includes a link the client can use to track the order in real time. Employees can access real-time status updates in the WMS, so they no longer have to waste 15 minutes searching for updates. Davies Turner also leveraged RPA to create an inventory tracking process that automatically notifies customers if an inventory line goes out of stock, enabling customers to avoid out-of-stock situations.
Automation makes it possible to provide faster customer service and critical real-time information customers can use to better manage their own business.
Eliminating Inefficiencies to Boost Productivity and Reduce Costs
Stellar customer service is a must for T&L operations—but so are efficiency and cost savings. The inability to integrate data is an area that often results in wasted time and money. Trucking companies, for example, utilize vehicle telematic and transportation management systems (TMS) to manage their fleets, but moving data between these systems and other business applications can be a difficult (and often manual) task. Intelligent automation makes the process more efficient, improving productivity and reducing costs.
Ron Finemore Transport operates an extensive logistics network in Australia. The company’s trucks deliver goods to some of the country’s most well-known brands. Ron Finemore implemented a new TMS and telematics solution so they could offer real-time data on truck locations to customers and to gain valuable business insight. Unfortunately, integrating the two platforms was a complex process, so employees were manually updating the TMS with data from the telematics system. The process was slow, costing six full-time equivalents (FTEs) per day.
RPA bots once again came to the rescue, overcoming the integration challenges. A software bot imports the real-time location of each truck into a central data warehouse and matches the record to the correct route in the TMS.
Seamless integration has yielded several efficiencies in the back office. Manual work on data entry has been reduced from six FTEs to half of one FTE per day, representing a 91 percent improvement in efficiency.
Not surprisingly, the company began automating other business processes, such as collecting fuel prices. The T&L provider also automated the order acceptance process for one of its biggest customers and boosted its data-quality score from 70 percent to over 90 percent in the process. Five hours per day of human effort was saved in the process. Employees are free to focus on strategic work and improving the customer experience rather than manual, error-prone tasks.
With a six-month return on its investment, automation has certainly proven to be a significant cost-saver and efficiency booster for the company.
Modernizing Systems to Create a Future-proof Operation
Transportation and logistics providers can’t control some of the delays they face today, but they can use automation to overcome the paper document bottleneck. There’s a large volume of paper forms involved in the shipping process. Brexit has further complicated the situation, turning the paperwork hill into a mountain.
Custom forms vary in format from one country to another, so it’s critical to be able to accurately identify specific documents and process them correctly. This can only be accomplished with highly accurate capture and classification technology. Proof of delivery (POD) documents are another high-volume paper document T&L providers must process. In many cases, POD is achieved through the use of digital scanners, but scanners aren’t available in every location and some shipments still require a manual signature. In these cases, POD documents must be manually scanned without sacrificing accuracy. Automation is, yet again, the best remedy.
DB Schenker is a globally integrated provider of logistics services. The company was already providing customers with electronic data exchange of all relevant shipping information, delivery times and performance indicators. One of the most critical pieces of data for every shipment, however, is the ePOD (electronic POD) delivery verification. The majority of the company’s delivery staff carried delivery scanners, but they weren’t able to implement them everywhere. Additionally, direct deliveries went straight from the shipper to the addressee and had to be handled on paper and digitized later. Even though these represent a small percentage of deliveries, it was enough to accumulate 600,000 pages of paper per year.
They needed a solution that was cost-effective, easy to use and that would provide accurate scans regardless of the quality of the paper delivery slip. The company implemented RPA, optical character recognition (OCR) and natural language processing to create digital images of forms, extract the information and deliver it to a variety of applications. The solution can also connect all standard scanners and multi-function machines easily.
The solution paid for itself in just a few weeks and was less expensive than purchasing delivery scanners across the board. Thanks to RPA, the lead time for updates was 80 percent faster. Digitizing paper-based delivery processes improved productivity, optimized costs and allowed the company to standardize their processes.
Is intelligent automation a formidable tool that can help transportation and logistics providers become more agile and resilient in the face of constant disruption? These real-world test subjects clearly prove the answer is “yes.” With intelligent automation, T&L providers can respond faster, adapt quickly and make internal processes more efficient and resilient.