Workflow tools automate everyday paperwork, speed cash flow
Commercial and private fleets always are looking to automate the “quote-to-cash” cycle. Most already are on the right path by using transportation management software designed for this purpose. Still, one of the biggest obstacles is how to handle the stream of data coming in from different sources and formats.
Orders arrive by phone, fax, Websites, e-mails, spreadsheets and electronic data interchange. After orders are entered and loads are assigned and delivered, there are even more sources and formats for data and documents involved in invoicing customers and paying drivers.
For years, document imaging systems and services have helped to clear the way, but the early versions did nothing more than replicate the workflow of using paper trays for an inbox and outbox. People still had to view documents and decide what to do with the content.
A growing number of fleets now are using workflow tools to automate the cycle from start to finish. These technologies can capture data from Websites, e-mails and other documents and convert it to a format easily consumed by TMS systems. Many also are using technology to automate the routine tasks and focus resources on clearing the exceptions, such as invoices with missing information.
This so-called “active” or “progressive” workflow has made order entry, invoicing, payroll and other processes become more efficient. Rather than paying people for repetition, companies are using knowledgeable workers to do more productive work that contributes to profitable growth.
EDI has – and perhaps always will be – the standard for automating business-to-business commerce in the transportation industry. Increasingly, however, more shippers and third-party logistics firms require carriers to visit Websites to retrieve and send information that used to be done through EDI, such as receiving load offers and updating shipment status.
For shippers, Websites can eliminate the legacy costs associated with EDI, such as a trained staff, as well as the setup and testing costs to connect with carriers. But for carriers already accustomed to using EDI, Websites can drain efficiency – especially for customers with a large volume of transactions.
Fortunately, the process of sending and retrieving data from shipper Websites can be automated just like it is with EDI.
“The goal is to take away physical paperwork and the process of sending information around to different departments.”
– Michelle Ramer, project manager, Pegasus TransTech
Intelek Technologies offers an EDI Transportation Suite for carriers. Its Software-as-a-Service model can automate the workflow of converting data from Websites, e-mails, spreadsheets and other nonstructured processes into the standard EDI messages consumed by TMS systems.
“Instead of having to monitor a couple of Websites, an e-mail box or spreadsheets, dispatchers and customer service representatives can do their jobs,” says Terry Wood, vice president of business development for Intelek.
The Intelek service also can be used to translate outbound EDI messages from TMS systems into the preferred format for a shipper. Carriers can have fields in their shippers’ Websites populated with data automatically; they also can send automated e-mail messages to update shipment status and accept load offers, among many other functions.
Intelek offers the EDI Transportation Suite as a monthly subscription, with pricing based on the carrier’s number of automated trading partners. Once the setup is complete, carriers have unlimited transactions, whether EDI or non-EDI.
EBE Technologies offers various workflow and business process automation tools in its Ships Integrated Billing module. The Ships module features a workflow product to convert nonstructured data obtained from shippers’ Websites into standard EDI messages that integrate with TMS systems.
Companies can use the Ships module to prescreen for loads offered in shipper Websites before the loads are presented to fleet managers to accept. A carrier would set up load selection criteria by customer and have loads flow to a pre-dispatch workflow queue in a TMS. A fleet manager then could accept or reject loads and generate an automatic response to the Website.
This automated workflow tool not only eliminates time spent trolling through multiple Websites for loads; it also allows smaller carriers to “get into the game of automation,” says Larry Kerr, president of EBE.
Companies that develop TMS systems also have tools designed to automate the information flow. TMW Systems offers a product called Data Exchange designed to convert incoming e-mails, spreadsheets and other file formats to the standard EDI format. TMW also can automate some forms of non-EDI outbound communications.
The company has a feature in its TMWSuite platform where users can auto-fill certain fields in external Websites, such as to update shipment status or accept loads. The feature allows users to add hyperlinks to the fields in TMWSuite that they wish to cross-reference or “map” with the fields in an external Website, says Keith Mader, TMW’s vice president of development for TMWSuite.
With the rising cost of fuel and driver wages, carriers always are looking for ways to accelerate their cash flow. Technology continues to create quicker and more cost-effective options to capture critical documents from drivers to complete the billing process.
Capturing images of bills of lading and other receipts is not the only step. Once the images arrive in the office, companies want to minimize labor costs and resolve exceptions that could delay customers from paying invoices. The latest workflow tools enable carriers to bill customers accurately within hours of delivery and with minimal effort.
Boyd Bros. uses TripPak Enterprise, an Internet-based imaging and workflow system from ACS, a Xerox company, for accelerated billing in its 1,100-truck fleet. The Clayton, Ala.-based flatbed carrier is able to bill 600 loads a day, on average, within 24 hours of load delivery.
Several years ago, Boyd Bros.’ drivers would place trip documents in overnight dropboxes at truckstops. The documents went to TripPak’s processing center, where they were scanned and made available online the next morning. Drivers then began using truckstop scanning and scan stations at company locations. Today, they are using ACS’ in-cab scanning through the fleet’s PeopleNet onboard computing platform.
Drivers also have the option to scan documents using personal laptops. Each time they scan, drivers fill out a trip sheet for the lead scan page; the trip sheet contains their load number and driver code.
Boyd Bros. exports a daily file to ACS with its load numbers and driver codes. As soon as the images from drivers arrive in ACS’ processing center, they are matched, or indexed, to the fields sent by Boyd and identified by type of document – receipt, bill of lading, etc.
TripPak Enterprise sends these indexed images to daily workflow queues set up by department and employee. Billing clerks use dual monitors to go through their workflow queue to audit freight bills. The left screen shows the order and billing information for loads in the TMS; on the right screen, clerks see the corresponding images attached to the load.
Once any final changes are made, the invoice is closed, and customers immediately receive an e-mail with the invoice and link to the corresponding images, which are stored online. “We don’t have to physically do anything at that point to provide documents to customers,” says Elaine Maude, vice president of IT for Boyd Bros.
While truckstop scanning continues to be used widely, in-cab scanning quickly is becoming the preferred way for fleets and drivers to get documents to the office.
Christenson Transportation, a 100-truck carrier based in Springfield, Mo., uses Rand McNally’s 7600 onboard computing platform for drivers to scan all trip documents from the cab. Even with scanning, the company only uses about 40 percent of its monthly data plan, says Don Christenson, president.
Once drivers scan documents from the cab, the images are routed automatically from Rand McNally to ACS, where they are indexed to the fleet’s TMS through TripPak Enterprise. Christenson Transportation is billing all of its loads within one day of delivery; if drivers scan paperwork before noon following a morning delivery, the company typically invoices the same day.
Overall, in-cab scanning has reduced Christenson Transportation’s days-to-invoice cycle by three days. The company also is able to resolve exceptions quicker, such as when it finds documents that either are missing or need to be rescanned. When the company used truckstop scanning, getting drivers to rescan documents took several days; fleet managers now can send a message to drivers and get a rescan within minutes.
Marten Transport has shortened its billing cycle by 1½ days since it began using Qualcomm’s in-cab scanning system on the MCP 200 platform. The Mondovi, Wis.-based company previously was using truckstop scanning to get images to the office.
Because of in-cab scanning, Marten’s fleet and dispatch managers also are able to verify immediately that the temperature of the refrigerated unit matches the temperature requirement on the bill of lading.
Trailer-tracking software allows Marten to check temperatures remotely, but a lot of times drivers pick up freight before the company knows the reefer unit’s temperature requirements, says Randy Baeir, director of IT. When drivers get to the pickup location, they are required to look at the bills to find the correct temperature setting and set accordingly.
“We use that paperwork on the back end to verify that the driver did set the temperature correctly,” Baeir says.
Order entry and invoicing might seem like routine work, but when trying to automate these and other business processes, exceptions – however small – get in the way. One customer might require a signed document before paying for detention or tolls. Another customer might require that certain reference numbers are added to an invoice.
Whatever the case may be, automation often will require custom programming – and perhaps seem too expensive to achieve. In the past, fleet managers would have to describe to a programmer what they wanted a workflow routine to do. The programmer would get to work and come back with a routine that might be close, but not quite right. The project would become a work in progress until it ultimately met expectations.
This model for creating workflow is changing to one where carriers can take control of their own destiny. Someone without programming experience can design and implement workflow routines, large or small, by themselves – and in real time.
At its annual user conference in September, McLeod Software announced a new Visual Workflow product. Planned for release in the first quarter of 2013, Visual Workflow will allow users to define and produce custom workflows with McLeod’s software platforms – which include the LoadMaster TMS and DocumentPower imaging system – without having to pay for custom programming, says Adel Harika, director of imaging.
Pegasus TransTech, a provider of software systems that help companies go paperless, has a Workflow system that its clients use to customize virtually any process that involves electronic or paper documents. Carriers typically use Workflow in conjunction with Pegasus’ enterprise imaging platform.
Since Workflow is a SQL-based software system, it can be used to map business processes and create custom workflows with other software programs. The product comes with a number of templates that carriers can use to automate workflow for invoicing, payables and driver hiring, to name a few examples, says Michelle Ramer, project manager for Pegasus.
“The goal is to take away physical paperwork and the process of sending information around to different departments,” says Ramer, who describes Workflow as a way to create a “bridge between systems” to move the data and paperwork through an organization.
EBE says it is seeing more requests from carriers to interface their own workflow with vendors such as insurance companies to eliminate having to hand-key information into a Website from a paper document, perhaps from another vendor that provides random drug tests, physicals and driver wellness programs.
The continued ease and simplicity of creating new workflow is helping to remove the pain points and lower the cost of doing business. In the end, that’s the point of automation, which for fleets of all sizes now is easier to achieve.
FULL SPEED AHEAD
In-cab scanning clears the legal hurdle
In 2008, in-cab scanning suddenly became a legal problem. Some of the first fleets using the technology, along with their suppliers, were told to cease-and-desist. R+L Carriers, a major less-than-truckload carrier, filed suit claiming an infringement on its patented in-cab scanning method.
R+L’s patented method enables shipping documents to be sent directly from the truck driver to a common point, such as a terminal, so that billing and load planning can occur while the driver is en route with the freight.
Qualcomm, PeopleNet, DriverTech, Intermec and Affiliated Computing Services fought back, and in 2010, a district court dismissed R+L’s initial lawsuit. While the legal battle temporarily slowed the adoption of in-cab scanning, the technology now has taken off quickly in the truckload sector. PeopleNet now has an exclusive agreement with ACS to provide scanning for its Blu in-cab PC.
Qualcomm has its own in-cab scanning option for its Mobile Computing Platform 100, 110 and 200 series. Pricing is currently a per-page fee, but Qualcomm soon will offer new monthly data plans with fixed pricing for scans. There is no charge for scans sent through Wi-Fi.
Intermec’s CN50 and CN4 computers have an Enhanced Mobile Document Imaging option that can capture images at the time a driver steps onto the customer’s dock to make a pickup or delivery. As the driver points the handheld computer at a document, an imager projects a laser guide onto the surface to help the driver adjust the scanner’s height to fit the document’s borders.
Rand McNally, which acquired DriverTech in 2010, offers a scanning option for its TPC 7600 platform with a monthly data plan. Images sent through Wi-Fi incur no incremental charges.
ACS offers drivers the ability to use their personal laptops and smartphones to capture and send images through TripPak’s in-cab scanning TripPak Mobile solution.
Companies that were not part of the legal battle have released new in-cab scanning systems. CarrierWeb includes a scanning option for its CarrierMate platform. Users have a certain number of documents included in their monthly service and pay a fixed price per sheet over that amount.
Pegasus TransTech has TransFlo Now – a free application that can be downloaded onto personal laptops and computers – and a smartphone application for the iPhone.
Mobile scanners are available for drivers and fleets that employ smartphones and tablets. The Pod Pad connects to mobile devices through Bluetooth radio.
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