The information motor carriers deliver is just as valuable as the freight. Without accurate and timely status on an inbound shipment, a manufacturer may be forced to shut down an entire production line and incur losses far greater than the actual value of goods in transit.
Many fleets are already using technology to give customers the status of shipments — the contents, the pickup and delivery times, the current location, and more. This information is communicated electronically but yet paper documents are still widely used in the shipping process.
It has long been the standard practice for shippers to hand drivers a bill of lading, or manifest, when they pick up their shipments. These documents accompany shipments to their final destinations where they are signed and returned to the office as proof-of-delivery receipts for billing purposes.
In the less-than-truckload environment, paper manifests stack up quickly and may get lost in the shuffle as drivers, dock workers and office employees use them to gather information and route freight. In truckload, the manifests typically stay with same truck and driver.
Both types of businesses can use a combination of technologies in the back-office and mobile environment to bypass the paper trail and move information and documents electronically.
The back office
Transportation management software (TMS) systems can keep paper out of the office where it may be doing more harm than good.
Carrier Logistics, Inc. (CLI) has an application that helps fleets eliminate paper in cross dock operations. The application runs on mobile devices to give dock workers real-time information to execute the shipments and routes according to plan.
The dock management system integrates with CLI’s back-office freight management software called FACTS. Together, these technologies help move shipments through cross dock facilities at a high velocity, says Ben Weisen, vice president of products and support.
Most TMS systems, including FACTS, also support a variety of mobile proof-of-delivery applications that drivers can use to capture document images and electronic signatures to eliminate the flow of paper into the office.
Some proof-of-delivery applications can eliminate the need to use paper manifests altogether. These apps integrate with TMS systems to present drivers with the pickup and delivery information they otherwise would have to get from paper documents. They also produce electronic manifests and capture electronic signatures for a paperless proof-of-delivery process.
CrossCountry Freight Solutions, a 210-truck LTL carrier based in Bismarck, N.D., uses a mobile application from Blackbay. Its drivers use the app to scan barcodes at pickup and deliveries and capture electronic signatures. The app integrates with its back office systems to provide customers with electronic proof-of-delivery receipts for immediate billing. For customers that use paper bills of lading, CrossCountry scans the documents and superimposes the signatures captured by its mobile application.
The FACTS system from CLI integrates with various third-party mobile applications to eliminate the need for drivers to carry paper manifests, Weisen says. The mobile apps from companies such as Apacheta and Acordex store electronic copies; if a customer wants a physical copy, the driver can either send an e-mail at the point of delivery or the system can be configured to send a copy automatically before the driver arrives, Weisen says.
Double D Express uses the FACTS system with the Acordex mobile app to get shipping information into the hands of its drivers as quickly as possible.
Incoming pickup orders are automatically routed to drivers by location and displayed on their Samsung Galaxy Tab 2. Deliveries on a route are also displayed. Drivers can touch the number assigned to the order, called a PRO number, to see an image of the original bill of lading to resolve any discrepancies in shipment quantities directly with the customer, says Tim Robey, an operations manager at Double D, an LTL carrier based in Peru, Ill.
In the LTL world, carriers may not know the details of a shipment until after the driver arrives to make a pickup. In such instances, mobile apps can be used to capture and transmit an image of the paper manifest to the office immediately for data entry, says Marc Mitchell, vice president of LTL technology for McLeod Software.
McLeod Software has transportation management systems for truckload and LTL companies. Using mobile applications, drivers can also capture and transmit images of signed documents using smartphones and tablets.
For delivery receipts, LTL carriers typically print a copy of the original BOL or an equivalent document for their drivers to take with them, he says. Electronic signature capture is not yet prevalent in the industry, but once paper documents are signed, mobile apps can be used to capture and transmit images to the office for immediate billing, he says.
Technology certainly makes it possible to eliminate the use of paper shipping documents altogether, but exceptions may always remain. At a minimum, at least fleets are able to lay waste to the bottlenecks and inefficiencies it can cause.