The pickup and delivery process at warehouse facilities is still largely manual. Moreover, the electronic bill of lading (eBOL) doesn't digitize a significant part of the process. Thus, most warehouses won't realize the benefits of a true contactless experience. However, the coronavirus pandemic is forcing logistics firms to explore options that minimize physical contact and touch points. One of those options should be Vector's contactless pickup and delivery platform.
This article will look into the current outbound live load process, how eBOL is just a small step toward its digital transformation, and how contactless is the future of warehousing loading and unloading operations.
The pickup and delivery process at most warehouses is still largely manual. It consists of multiple steps and numerous physical interactions between the drivers, guards, shipping clerks, and warehouse personnel. There are multiple touch points wherein the staff manually enters the data from a paper form into a transport management system (TMS) or warehouse management system (WMS).
Step 1: Upon arriving at a warehouse, the driver has to physically fill out a check-in form or log book at the facility’s security checkpoint. The guard shack needs to verify the driver's information and carrier ID, review the bill of lading (BOL), and check what's in the trailer.
Step 2: The driver has to park their vehicle at the staging area and visit the welcome center. Then, the shipping clerk provides the dock door information, yard location, and pickup type information.
Step 3: Once the driver knows their door assignment, they can move to the location to load the truck. They share the document provided by the welcome clerk with the warehouse personnel. Then, the warehouse personnel need to go back to the shipping clerk with the pick sheet to originate the bill of lading.
Step 4: In most cases, the driver has to come back to the welcome center with the loaded trailer. Here, the shipping clerk provides the BOL and related shipping documents. The driver again manually signs the BOL and shares the information with the back office. The clerk also verifies the information, provides the trailer seal, and shares the seal information with the receiver.
Step 5: Finally, the driver goes back to the warehouse where the trailer is sealed by the personnel. While exiting the facility, the guard verifies the seal, takes tarping photos, and records the scale out, time, and date of the carrier’s checkout.
Each of these steps has multiple touch points with numerous manual tasks. The paper trail of forms, documents, and seal verification require constant close-quarter interactions between many people. These touch points are especially dangerous in times of a pandemic such as the coronavirus.
The current manual process requires the driver, security guards, shipping clerks, and warehouse personnel to perform multiple tasks. Even if the tasks themselves are streamlined, there can still be waiting times at each of these steps. The driver may need to wait at the security gate or stand in a queue at the welcome center or at the loading location. These tasks are unproductive as the driver should be in and out of the facility as fast as possible and on their way. Paying staff to carry documents in circles is a waste of time and money.
Moreover, managing tons of documents and manually entering data is a time-consuming task for the shipping clerk. The staff needs to process, verify, and validate the documents. They also have to scan them, index them, and upload them into the TMS or WMS system. If these are done automatically, the clerk can be more productive and cater to more deliveries in the same time period. It's not uncommon for the whole process to take hours at warehouse facilities when it could be much less.
This paper-heavy manual process also leads to higher chances of errors. Every manual system is vulnerable to human errors. Despite our best efforts, all of us can make a mistake once in a while. The shipping clerk might enter the wrong data or provide the wrong pickup information. The warehouse personnel might communicate the incorrect shipment details. This can lead to the wrong load being delivered or cause severe delays in the supply chain. Sometimes it can even lead to missing documents. The driver might misplace the BOL, for example. It's fairly common for trucking businesses to send invoices 90 to 100 days late because of missing proof-of-delivery documents from drivers. This causes major disruptions in the cash flow for all parties involved in the delivery.
Finally, manual entry of data and low digitization of the process also translates to a limited bandwidth of data collection. There is only so much you can expect the driver and shipping clerks to enter manually into the different transport or document management systems. Digital data collection and storage increase the number of details that can be tracked. The information is also easier to search and index. Additionally, a centralized digital data storage system makes the shipping information available to the carrier, shipper, and retailer in real time. This can improve the collaboration and information flow among all the stakeholders in the operation. In the current manual process, this seamless flow of critical information is much more challenging.
A BOL, or bill of lading, is essentially a contract between a freight carrier and a shipper that provides all the details needed to process the freight shipment. A BOL specifies the type, quantity, and destination of the freight a driver is carrying.
An eBOL, or electronic bill of lading, is the digital form of the BOL. It serves a similar purpose. The document legally specifies that the carrier has received the freight as described and is obligated to deliver it to the mentioned delivery location. All parties use the BOL to confirm delivery, create the bill or invoice, and resolve any disputes.
The nondigital BOL process could take weeks to start the billing process. The driver would fax the BOL upon receiving it at the warehouse facility or submit it manually to the back office. Multiple people within the back office physically handle these documents. This can take an additional three to four days before the invoice is finally generated.
Thus, eBOLs can streamline the invoicing and document management process at the carrier's back office. However, the eBOL doesn't do much to digitize the warehouse pickup and delivery process.
At the warehouse facility, the eBOL can definitely minimize some of the touch points discussed previously. It'll also help to quickly transfer the BOL and shipping information back to the carrier back office.
However, the eBOL is just one piece of the larger puzzle. For example, it cannot track or verify any information at the guard shack. Thus, this step remains completely manual. The eBOL cannot digitize the process of the driver visiting the shipping clerk to get the pickup type information. The shipping clerk also cannot originate the eBOL until the warehouse personnel provide the pick sheet to the welcome center.
Moreover, there are thousands of variations of an eBOL depending on the delivery requirements. On top of that, firms can generate these eBOLs in a variety of formats through a plethora of tools such as inventory management solutions, yard solutions, warehouse management solutions, etc. There's no standardization in the industry on what an eBOL should look like. Thus, integrating all these varieties of eBOLs into the back-end systems is a nightmare. Despite the digital nature of the eBOL, carriers and shippers may eventually have to enter this data manually.
Ultimately, a lot of digitization has to happen around the eBOL to really make it worthwhile.
The contactless pickup and delivery process requires the eBOL, but it also eliminates the need for drivers to get out of their trucks. The streamlined operations allows the carrier to get in and out of the facility much faster. The driver doesn't need to sign so many documents and carry them around. The warehouse team and shipment clerk don't need to manually handle a bunch of paperwork either.
Vector's contactless pickup and delivery solution can digitally capture and communicate all the required information. It addresses the entire pickup and delivery workflow holistically. Thus, contactless pickup and delivery can eliminate most of the touch points in the current non-digital process.
The driver can pull up to the facility’s security checkpoint. They can check in to the facility quickly by simply scanning a posted QR code. Geofencing check-in can also be enabled prior to arrival. The driver could use a personal smartphone, company-issued tablet, electronic logging device (ELD), or telematics device. Therefore, the driver doesn't need to physically sign the form at the security checkpoint to enter the check-in date and time anymore. The driver can automatically submit the identifying information such as picture, name, contact details, and shipment number as well. This can be verified electronically so that the driver can pass through the security shack as soon as possible. Thus, step 1 from the old process of checking in at security is much more streamlined.
Instead of parking the vehicle to meet the shipping clerk at the welcome center, the driver can receive the necessary information digitally. The driver can remain in the truck and communicate with the shipping clerk through the app. The shipping clerk receives the information shared during the check-in instantaneously. The clerk can then provide the dock door information, yard location, and pickup type information all without ever having to transfer paper documents. Thus, the driver no longer has to physically visit the shipping clerk at the welcome center. The contactless process completely eliminates step 2 from the old process of visiting the welcome center. The driver can move straight to the location to load the truck.
The concerned warehouse personnel at the dock door also receive the information digitally. Therefore, the driver doesn't need to carry the documents from the welcome center to share them with warehouse personnel. After the truck has been loaded, the driver can remain in the truck while the warehouse personnel share the pick sheet information digitally with the shipping clerk. Thus, the physical touchpoints of step 3 from the older process are also eliminated.
The shipping clerk can then import the eBOL, pick sheets, and other required shipment documents into the app. As mentioned before, the eBOL doesn't have a consistent standard format. Depending on the tool used to originate it, the format may differ from warehouse to warehouse. However, Vector's auto-imaging module leverages OCR (optical character recognition) and AI (artificial intelligence) to read the document in multiple formats and ingest the data. Thus, no manual indexing or doctyping are required anymore. The driver automatically receives this eBOL information through the app. The back offices of the carrier and receiver are also notified that the documents have been originated.
The driver can then go to the welcome center to get the seal. However, the driver would still have to get out of the truck to pick up the trailer seal from the welcome center. Alternatively, the warehouse personnel can add the seal to the trailer, verify the seal and eBOL match, and then share the information with the driver through the app. This way, the driver doesn't need to go to the welcome center before leaving. The contactless process can completely eliminate step 4 from the old process of visiting the welcome center on the way out. The driver can move straight to the security checkout.
If the warehouse personnel has already secured and verified the seal, the driver can check out and simply drive off. In case there are additional workflows during checkout, the security guard can perform them. For example, the temperature checks can be conducted as part of the exit workflows on any mobile device. Thus, step 5 from the old process of checking out at the security gate is much more streamlined as well.
The global COVID-19 pandemic is rapidly forcing businesses to adopt new processes to ensure the health and safety of drivers and warehouse workers while keeping the flow of goods moving along the supply chains. Thus, the contactless pickup and delivery process can be a lifesaver for the logistics industry. It can reduce the health and safety risks for drivers, security guards, shipping clerks, and warehouse personnel.
Apart from health reasons, it also eliminates the inherent inefficiencies in today's paper-driven processes. Moreover, it helps the driver go in and out much faster and reduces the chances of delayed deliveries. It also improves collaboration and communication among the shippers, carriers, and receivers. All of them have real-time visibility of the shipment status and delivery information. It can also reduce the chances of human errors and increase document accuracy.
The three main stakeholders also gain specific benefits from contactless pickup.
The above benefits clearly show that the digital and automated contactless pickup and delivery process will be the future of warehouse facilities, especially during these pandemic times.
This post was written by Aditya Khanduri. Aditya currently handles product and growth at Cryptio.co, and he's also built a couple of B2B products. He's proficient in data analysis with Python and has worked with multiple startups in the blockchain and artificial intelligence sector.