These are exciting times for transportation and logistics. We have the Jetson-like potential of drones and unmanned/autonomous vehicles to improve supply chain efficiencies and speed deliveries. There are also some interesting developments outside of logistics that will allow you to provide new products and services to your customers.
For example, there is gamification and social sharing to engage the younger workers in your supply chain, and the Internet of Things, which will allow you to share more logistics data with your customers, and social media monitoring which can provide a critical feedback mechanism for you and your partners.
These are also difficult times. According to Forrester’s TechRadar: Logistics Applications, logistics companies face daunting challenges from today’s ‘I want it now’ consumer and from the digital disruption affecting the supply chains (omnichannel commerce, shorter product lifecycles, last mile logistics, etc.). The TechRadar report goes on to list the 20 critical (or soon to be critical) application types involved in delivering a compelling and differentiated customer experience.
It’s a safe bet you will be adding applications and new partners in order to survive and thrive in this ever changing environment. Selecting the right applications and partners is part of the challenge. The other part is integrating these systems and workflows.
And let us not forget mergers and acquisitions. You could have several new logistics applications and partners imposed upon your company overnight. This is especially evident in the 3PL space. Are you prepared?
The Integration Challenge
There are varying degrees of integration (APIs, hard coding, etc.) with varying costs, time frames and benefits. Complete integrations are luxuries and may not be realistic in your industry where time is indeed money. Too often, new data sources and the additional application screens that your employees have to open and monitor become an exercise in ‘swivel chair integration.’ This is best exemplified by employees reading data from one screen and keying it into another.
Of course, swivel chairing does not have to be a byproduct of additional technology. It could be due to your partners’ infrastructures. You might like EDI, they might like email. Someone has to extract shipping information from that email and enter it into your transportation management system.
Swivel chair integration is cheap in the short run, but costly in the long run due to manual keying, data entry errors and the only way to scale it up is manually, that is, adding more employees or adding more hours to your current staff. It’s also demotivating. Your new, skilled, millennial employees will not be happy with swivel chair integration.
No More Chair Swiveling with Robotic Process Automation
Fortunately, there is a solution to swivel chair integration: robotic process automation (RPA). RPA is the application of technology (agents or ‘robots)’ to automate workflows, where the process activity is well understood and work being performed it repetitive in nature. Think of RPA as embedded or virtual employees. RPA mimics the actions a person would take while working on a computer. These can include interactions with desktop applications, enterprise applications, email, older green screens, websites and portals.
RPA is not a core or backbone technology. It is complimentary to your infrastructure, non-disruptive and scales up easily. As you can imagine, you can deploy it faster, more easily and more affordably compared to other forms of integration.
RPA is ideal for the logistics industry. Some of your peers have deployed it, such as Pitt Ohio to solve the issues of disparate data sources, disparate systems and manual processes. Robotic process automation can eliminate virtually any manual business activity for significant efficiency gains, including:
- Scheduling and tracking shipping requests: Software robots can automate multiple manual shipping tasks, starting with the pick-up request through to checking and reporting shipment status between internal systems and portals.
- Capturing and researching new load information: RPA can automate the extraction of digital data and proof of delivery documents – including the Bill of Lading, carrier invoice, and other pertinent documents – from each carrier’s website in preparation for invoicing.
- Closing out and invoicing LTL shipments: With RPA, providers no longer need to chase down PODs and you can automate the creation of invoices to ensure 100 percent accuracy, and automatically follow up on those loads where there’s a payment dispute.
Another success story is Trinity Logistics, a 3PL. Trinity had customer reps accessing the systems of all of their clients’ shippers, carriers and service providers in order to capture new loads, pay invoices and track shipments. The work involved manually keying and copying data from one screen to another. With RPA, Trinity can now close out 95% of their supported LTL shipments without manual intervention.
Turning Challenges into Opportunities
It’s time to choose the new services you will offer and the technology needed to enable those services. That is the nature of competition and evolving markets. Rest assured, whatever decision you make, big or small, will have a faster path to ROI and a smoother outcome with the help of RPA.
For a more in-depth discussion on what RPA can do for you, download our ePaper: The Road Ahead: 3 Ways Logistics Providers are Automating Costly Manual Processes ePaper.