The Benefits of Document Automation in Supply Chains and Logistics

Document Assembly, Document Automation

Supply chains, and the logistics that go along with them, have been a headache in recent years. A global pandemic, bad weather in Texas, and sky-high fuel prices are just a few of the roadblocks that have added to the recent supply chain problem around the globe.

Every stalled container ship or driverless trucking fleet you hear about requires a large amount of data to be sorted and processed. Even during years in which the supply chain is flowing smoothly, large amounts of data still need to be processed. In fact, there’s even more data flying around when merchandise is actually moving. This is where the need for document automation in supply chain and logistics comes into play. 

Shipping is about moving data as well as products.

“Supply chain and logistics” used to be known simply as “shipping.” Individual companies specialized in things like trucking, rail, actual ocean ships, etc. In today’s world of intermodal transport, with companies moving goods in multiple ways worldwide, things have gotten a lot more complicated. Giving rise to a fancier, more descriptive name, and a mind-boggling infrastructure for keeping track of it all. 

Part of that infrastructure involves incorporating document automation in supply chain and logistics. You’ve seen a version of automation when a delivery person hands you a little gadget and asks you to make a close approximation of your signature on a tiny screen. Back in the day, you would have signed a small pile of paper with carbon sheets between the pages, keeping one of those pages for your records. Today, you sign the screen and a record of the delivery pops up in your email before the delivery truck even pulls way.

Not every operation is a large intermodal corporation with fancy gadgets that track shipments and deliveries. Even large-scale outfits sometimes contract with low-tech companies that use old-school paper documents to stay organized from supplier to warehouse to delivery vehicle to final destination and every other point along the way. Those are the ones who most sorely need to learn about document automation in supply chain and logistics.

Even with technology, there’s still a paper trail.

There’s quite a paper trail in the world of supply chain and logistics—invoices, bills of lading, delivery acceptance forms, to name just a few mile-markers—and it needs to flow smoothly if that item you ordered is going to get from Point A to Point B in a reasonable amount of time (without arriving at Point C, instead). 

Some documents are directly related to the purchaser but others, like legal documents, are strictly intended to facilitate interstate and/or international commerce. Traveling between Point A and Point B can involve crossing several borders, and your next border crossing isn’t guaranteed to be the same as the previous one. International and interstate regulations can vary in many ways, except for one—they all require strict adherence and compliance before whatever it is you’re moving can go anywhere. The required documents must be filled out with the utmost care; incorrect information results in stalled shipments, lost money, and unhappy customers.

Consider document automation for supply chain and logistics.

What all this means is that there is a boatload (or truckload, or trainload) of information that travels with an item that is being shipped. In a manual world, that translates to hundreds and even thousands of documents moving through many hands and locations as goods make their way across the country and around the world.

There’s nothing wrong with paper documents, as long as you can find them, and as long as torn edges and/or coffee stains and/or atrocious handwriting haven’t rendered them useless. Just a small error can cause big delays and cost a company a lot of money, not to mention a loss of reputation. 

When there is only one copy of a document at a given location at a given time, the loss of that document can cause a lot of trouble. Document automation in supply chain and logistics enables a central data source to house data and recall it at a moment’s notice at various points in the supply chain, using electronic templates that allow documents to be recovered, reissued, even printed in hard copy. And since the document automation system is designed to be thorough, you can be sure that any document generated will be 100% compliant with all rules that pertain to the shipment. 

Centralized, well-updated data also eliminates the risk of pricing being accidentally changed, destinations being misidentified, any number of costly errors. Here’s just a few other things automation can help companies avoid:

  • Merchandise piled up at a port or loading dock because the right sign-offs can’t be done
  • Product sitting at a border crossing because “Your papers aren’t in order”
  • Getting hit with fees because on incomplete paperwork or with penalties for leaving shipments at a location longer than was contracted
  • Paying employees to waste time rectifying avoidable errors

Every job comes with headaches, but applying document automation in supply chain and logistics can help make intermodal shipping headaches few and far between.