From the Chicago White Sox throwing the 1919 World Series to Pete Rose gambling to the steroid era, Major League Baseball has had its share of cheating scandals. The most recent was when the Houston Astros used technology to steal their opposing team's signs to win the 2017 World Series.
But wait, what does sign-stealing in baseball have to do with freight documents? Well, there are two lessons we can learn from the art of sign-stealing in baseball that we can apply to logistics. But before I can make those two lessons crystal clear, let me give a quick recap of what sign-stealing is.
Signs in baseball are non-verbal instructions for the upcoming play given between teammates and coaches.
Baseball signs are a funny way to transmit information. Players and coaches all know their signs can be stolen, and that's why the third base coach looks like he's constantly checking his pockets for his car keys. Everyone in the stadium knows somewhere in the midst of all that hand-waving, the third base coach just told the batter to bunt. On the other hand, the catcher looks like he's spelling the name of the pitch in sign language, but all that finger-fluttering simply translates to "throw a curveball."
Obviously, if you know what's coming next, you have a huge advantage over your opponent. Sign-stealing removes the element of surprise from the game. In other words, cheating makes the game easier. Yet stealing signs is totally OK in baseball. But the Astros crossed the line when they used technology to inform their hitters what pitch was coming next. Tech made the Astros' sign-stealing system too good.
Moral of the story? Here are two that apply directly to trucking:
This post will attempt to do both. I'll provide a checklist of all the freight documents you'll need to knock every shipment out of the park. But I'll also look deeper into the technology that carriers and shippers are utilizing on every load to give them what I'll call the Astro Advantage.
Trucking companies are like baseball teams. Every trucking company is a unique blend of talent. Drivers are like players. They're out in the field every day, trying to perform their best, helping their team beat the competition, and earning a living. Some drivers are All-Stars (you know who they are). Also, truckers, like baseball players, have their own style of hat. And if that wasn't enough to convince you of the similarities, some truck drivers even have their own baseball card!
Meanwhile, managers work behind the scenes, setting the line-up and calling plays. We can also compare the analytics team using statistics and data to streamline competitive advantages to modern baseball. Additionally, we know baseball is a business. Every team has its sales team looking for ways to recruit new customers and keep the dollars flowing. At the top of the pyramid is ownership, which makes the big decisions that control the vision and direction of the team.
But at the end of the day, the rubber meets the road for both baseball and trucking one at-bat—and one load—at a time. A successful load requires the correct paperwork. Like the starting nine in a baseball line-up, there are nine freight documents that play every day.
Let's take a trip around the horn and get to know the nine freight documents that lead to success in shipping! Batter up!
Bills of lading (BOLs) put the tick in logistics. They contractually protect, shipper, carrier, and customer; provide all the basic load information; and act as receipts.
Logistics lives on paperwork. Subsequently, the Astro Advantage comes into play right off the bat.
Vector can be your Astro Advantage. Vector is the leader in digitized documents because of its best-in-class perfect scan imaging tech. It leads the market demand for contactless pickups and deliveries.
Many shippers have become interested in electronic BOL solutions. Their goal is to keep warehouse staff at a safe distance from drivers. Thus, eBOLs have become a simple matter of safe information sharing. Shippers and carriers are both spending the money it takes to streamline safety and ensure quality information exchange, with the added bonus of eliminating a lot of no-value-added work for all parties.
In logistics, a proof of delivery is crucial. A POD acts as a receipt that confirms a consignee has received the freight sent by the shipper. When a representative of the consignee signs a POD, they legally acknowledge receipt of the freight, as stated on the paperwork. In other words, a signed POD ensures the shipment—the correct freight in the correct quantity—is all accounted for and damage-free.
Vector has a digital, contactless solution for PODs that works similarly to its software for eBOLs but has a few extra tools. Not only can Vector digitize PODs, but it also can create automatic, one-click billing. Vector calls it rendition billing. Rendition billing allows a carrier to deliver to cash. In other words, gone are the days when it took weeks to get paperwork back to the office, invoice the customer, and get a check in the mail. Now, Vector allows carriers to get paid immediately upon delivery. That means Vector not only makes you paperless and streamlines your workflow but also provides greater cash flow control.
To put this another way, if Vector were a baseball player, it would have an incredible power-speed number. In baseball, one of the most elusive stats a player can achieve is a season where they hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases. There's a reason only four players in history are members of the 40-40 club. But that's the kind of power-speed combo Vector provides to its customers.
No one likes it when the umpire makes a bad call for your team. The same is true in logistics. No one likes dealing with over, short, or damaged freight. But bad calls and damaged freight happen. The important thing in both cases is having a process in place that allows you to keep your head in the game and move on quickly.
The Vector app allows carriers to capture all relevant data in an orderly fashion. All pictures and exception details are time-stamped with GPS coordinates for a clean, smooth process. Ultimately, when you use digital forms, freight claims can be filed with and processed by insurance companies that much quicker.
It's worth noting that there have been eight players named Rod who played in the MLB. Rod Beck had the best mustache, but Hall of Famer Rod Carew hit .328 over his career.
In trucking, the FMCSA mandates the hours of service (HOS) must be tracked for all drives in a RODs logbook. Technology has evolved the RODs mandate to the extent that electronic logging devices (ELDs) now automatically collect a truck's movements. Stiff HOS penalties can be levied against drivers and carriers who mishandle their logs. From a paperwork perspective, know that the HOS rules mandate every driver must carry paper RODs backups in their truck in case their ELD stops working.
In summary, savvy carriers see ELDs as part of a greater logistics industry trend of building a holistic tech stack that synchronizes every facet of a trucking operation. Put another way, a holistic tech stack ensures you always hit for a high batting average and produce more wins.
Another freight document drivers deal with is their everyday trip sheets. Carriers use trip sheets to track load basics like dates, locations, and mileage. But asking drivers to calculate their mileage, IFTA, or pay can lead to incorrect calculations, wasted time, and delayed or incorrect payments. It would be like asking ball players to keep all their own stats.
Instead, Vector pulls that trip sheet information from a carrier's TMS or on-board telematics. Weight tickets or lumper receipts can also be included on an electronic trip sheets. Their software runs the calculations, sends information directly into your AP system, and interfaces seamlessly with back office operations to minimize duplicate data entry and busy work. While we're on the subject, it's worth pointing out that a digitized office is one that doesn't fear an audit.
Speaking of fear, there's nothing worse than an accident. Accidents happen, and they're stressful situations, but they aren't the end of the world.
In the event of an accident, carriers need to protect their driver, fleet, and business by following the proper reporting and safety protocol. In the past, a paper accident report and some photos were a driver's only recourse for freight documents. Vector's software consolidates and streamlines the accident reporting process.
Digitized documents and photos are time- and GPS-stamped for the utmost data accuracy. This creates a tighter report to submit to the authorities. Knowing you have Vector in your back pocket helps ease the stress of accidents before they happen. In essence, having Vector is like having instant replay to make sure the correct call gets made on every play.
If you follow the business of baseball, you've heard a phrase like this: "Player A has been traded to team B pending a physical." The physical is the equivalent in logistics to the inspection report. Before every trip, drivers inspect their vehicle for damage and to ensure their rig is in compliance with the FMCSA and CVSA.
Just like a team doesn't want to find out their new player is hurt, a driver doesn't want to hit the road in a damaged vehicle. It literally pays for a driver to start their day with a mini DOT Week-style vehicle audit. It doesn't have to be difficult or take forever. Vector makes vehicle inspection reports easy.
Permit book docs are the opposite of the unwritten rules of baseball. As such, the rules are clear about which documents must be carried inside a truck at all times. These freight documents are motor carrier authority certificate, certificate of insurance, driver's license, truck registration (and lease agreement if applicable), ELD instructions, paper log backups, IFTA card, and hazmat paperwork (if applicable). Vector can digitize many of these documents or facilitate the digital transfer of any required documents to the driver in the event of a roadside inspection.
In truth, baseball history is filled with colorful characters, heroes, and villains. With so many personality types working together, sometimes it doesn't work so well. That's when you have what's called a toxic clubhouse. Baseball could learn a lot about player development from the way logistics handles hazardous material shipments. Moreover, it's all about providing a structured approach to hazmat carriers, requiring communication and having a plan for first responders in the event of an accident or emergency.
FMCSA provides all the hazmat compliance details here.
To summarize, I think MLB can learn a lot from the logistics industry, and vice versa. One thing logistics can learn from baseball is to look for the Astro Advantage: that piece of technology that makes you so good it's scandalous and the other teams complain.
Remember, if you want the competitive advantage, it helps to know what's coming next. In the final analysis, I predict savvy logistics companies will react quickly to adopt Vector in order to augment their talent with streamlined, digitized, touchless document tools to create championship teams.
This post was written by Brian Deines. Brian believes that every day is a referendum on a brand’s relevance, and he’s excited to bring that kind of thinking to the world of modern manufacturing and logistics. He deploys a full-stack of business development, sales, and marketing tools built through years of work in the logistics, packaging, and tier-1 part supply industries serving a customer base comprised of Fortune 1000 OEMs.