Eliminating the paper trail

“I won’t open my mail anymore,” said J.R. Fogarty after anthrax-infected letters were found originating from the nearby Trenton, N.J., post office. As anthrax spores surfaced in New Jersey, New York and Washington, D.C., Fogarty became even more convinced that paperwork not only wastes time and money, but it is also a possible health threat.

The possibility of anthrax spores spreading to your office is, of course, extremely small. Even so, new security measures taken by the U.S. Postal Service could add extra days to your bill collections. But it doesn’t take terrorist activity to convince fleet executives that it’s time to go paperless.

Located 30 miles from Trenton in Burlington, N.J., J.R. Fogarty Inc. already has the technology to start a paperless invoicing and collections process. Using Terion’s mobile communications system and an in-house imaging system, Fogarty can send electronic invoices to customers of his 38-truck company immediately after loads are delivered.

Before too long, J.R. Fogarty’s customers will be able to access current and past invoices through its company’s website – eliminating much of the time spent resolving billing concerns. Such technology could significantly reduce the amount of paperwork, Fogarty says, if more of his customers – mostly the small shippers – were willing to switch to electronic invoicing and bill payment.

“Customers still want pieces of paper,” Fogarty says. “But I’d love to see us use data capturing like UPS and FedEx. I anticipate drivers sending the invoice directly to the shipper,” Fogarty says.

While the anthrax scare seems to be abating, the experience may have led many businesses to reconsider, for other reasons, whether “snail mail” is an acceptable medium for business transactions. The costs of printing and mailing an invoice are small, but the cost in time as measured in cash flow can be enormous. Between mailing the invoice and waiting for the check to arrive, you might lose a week or 10 days without even counting the time it takes for the driver to get you the paperwork. Even if your customer still insists on paying by mail, you can still cut that loss in half.

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Document imaging is at the forefront of the paperwork elimination battle. That will be the next technology investment for H&W Trucking Inc., says Keith Weatherholt, president of the 49-truck carrier in Ona, W. Va. “We’re trying to reduce the paper flow and get our billing out more quickly. Imaging has been cheaper now than it has been in the past.”

Imaging traditionally has been an expensive proposition. That’s changing. Offerings like TripPak Online from TMI and Transflo.com from Pegasus TransTech provide document scanning and workflow solutions on an application service provider basis, allowing carriers to adopt these tools without investing in hardware, software and ongoing system operations. Meanwhile, the cost of in-house imaging and scanning systems has come down as well, although they remain significantly more expensive than ASP-based solutions.

Payables can become paperless too. Online bill management services eliminate the time involved in filing, retrieving, mailing checks and managing bills and invoices. For example, Cyberbills, Paytrust and PayMyBills are services that scan, store and organize all your bills. You can go online at any time and decide which bills to pay and how much to pay. The services also provide customers with a CD archive at the end of the year. These services include easy download and upload capabilities with existing accounting packages, such as Peachtree, QuickBooks and MYOB.

And don’t forget electronic data interchange. EDI has been challenged by Internet-based technologies, but it’s hardly gone. Far too many shippers and carriers have invested in EDI for the practice to die a quick death.

Effective cash management centers on getting paperwork out the door more quickly and holding onto cash longer. Converting paperwork into electronic format makes both possible. With the problems facing traditional mail, you may have more leveraging power with customers to get them up to speed.

Aaron Huff is associate editor of Commercial Carrier Journal. E-mail [email protected].