Achieving the Paperless Logistics Company

Author: Richard Shaw
Posted: July 12, 2016

In the second of our guest blogs, we caught up with Hussein Ahmed, affectionately known within the industry as “Moose”, for his opinion on the perceived benefits and practicalities of the paperless logistics firm. Moose is a director at UK-based road transport specialist, Transmode, and has over 25 years of experience within the logistics sector.

Without further ado, over to Moose…

“To be as efficient as possible in this industry and gain a competitive edge, you want to try to get away from paper as much as you can. However, it’s hard to get away from it entirely.

The First Steps Towards Paperless Logistics

At Transmode, we’ve given our drivers PDAs to communicate and track order details, removing the need for paper and allowing customers to digitally sign for deliveries. These details are then fed into our management system electronically, so we have a full audit trail.

Of course, some people still want a hard copy as proof of delivery (POD), but as confidence in the technology builds and “old school” customer behaviour changes, this will be the case less often. Most likely, people will start to adapt when paper-based systems become too expensive in comparison to digital.

In some cases, we receive job instructions via paper, but larger jobs for big suppliers are mostly handled electronically, as their systems talk to ours. A slight frustration we have is that email instructions need to be printed off and manually inputted into our current system, so a document management solution with automated indexing or OCR scanning is something we’re keen to investigate further.

Barriers to Going Paperless

The main issue, as we perceive it, is finding a system with broad integration capabilities which won’t break the bank. I understand that cloud-based document management systems can be very cost-effective, but the time and resource required to get our legacy systems in order might be prohibitive in the short term.

I suspect that eventually the volume of jobs we process will justify the transition and make it worthwhile, but for smaller freight carriers, who might only be handling a few jobs a day, the investment probably wouldn’t make sense.

Judging by the conversations I’ve had recently, the industry at large wants to get away from paper, but the goal of becoming paper-free only seems attainable for the bigger players – and even then, paper-lite seems more realistic. Some companies are being won over by the efficiencies achievable through paperless systems, but the smaller freight forwarders don’t see the profitability of buying in to these systems.

Secure Data Storage & Archiving

There’s no legal requirement for us to store hard copies of ‘instructions of work’, so we tend to handle these electronically; however, PODs do need to be kept in hard copy as most contractors need to keep them on file for a year, in case of a dispute. So there is a storage overhead here, but not a huge one.

The real issue is the time it takes to find a POD note should it be needed, and it only gets worse as the business grows and paper volumes increase.

A document management system would allow these delivery notes to be scanned in for secure, compliant storage and easy retrieval, but very few companies do that at present. Again, when the size of the filing problem becomes too big and costly, that’s likely to be the catalyst for implementing a digital solution.

Setting Realistic Goals

It’s worth bearing in mind that a workflow involving regular document scanning can never really be considered “paperless”, so logistics companies need to be realistic with their expectations when setting goals and targets.

In my experience, the larger companies operating in the road transport marketplace have digitised almost everything, whereas the smaller players are mostly still tied to paper. A file for a container-in-transit will literally be a folder sitting on their desk.

One might question whether they can afford to computerise the process, but when the old way of doing things is causing clients extra time, hassle and cost, and losing you money, the real question should be, can they afford not to?”

If you’d like to know more about secure document management for the transport and logistics industry, please get in touch with our expert consultants today.