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Paper to pixels: Practical strategies for today’s supply chain

While outsiders often view the shipping and logistics industry as backward and tech-averse, companies across all segments of the industry have made a serious effort to up their technological game over the past several years. Despite these efforts, today’s supply chain remains bogged down with paperwork, leading to lost time, wasted trees and inefficient information flow.

Piles of paperwork plague every mode of transportation, and recent shifts in consumer shopping behavior — namely the ongoing e-commerce surge — have only made the problem worse.

“The LTL business has exploded with the growth of e-commerce, and I think that has multiplied the problem,” said Jaison Augustine, EVP and business unit head of shipping and logistics at WNS. “The global container throughput was about 80 million TEUs in 1990. In 2019, it was over 800 million. It has grown tenfold in 30 years.”

For every shipment by sea, there are 36 original documents, 240 copies and as many as 27 parties leaving a paper trail that is impossible to manage, according to Augustine. As these shipments continue to increase over time, companies are becoming overwhelmed. This has made many shippers acutely aware of the need to rethink their paperwork flow. 

Moving offline paperwork into the digital realm offers a wide range of benefits for shippers and carriers alike. Reducing physical paperwork allows players across the supply chain to save time, money and hassle. Additionally, going paperless gives shippers access to real-time data about their shipments, allowing them to make more informed decisions.

“Current processes are not allowing key decision makers to have the right amount of data, at the right time, in the right context. Being able to make decisions on a timely basis is more critical than ever,” APL Logistics CIO Hakan Yaren said. “We are working through various efforts to move the needle, and you can’t really do this in a paper-heavy environment.”

For most logistics companies, going paperless on their own isn’t a plausible option. The majority of companies will need to work closely with a third-party technology partner like WNS to understand the intricacies of a digital-first approach and expedite the process of converting paper to pixels. 

WNS helps shippers make strides toward a paperless future through a full suite of digital-first services. One of the company’s key offerings is its digital billing platform, WNS Malkom.

WNS Malkom is a next-generation platform powered by AI and machine learning working to refine LTL billing. By automating end-to-end bill-of-lading processes, the solution reduces repetitive, error-prone tasks. At the same time, the tool’s AI layer is learning to deploy the right elements, all the while being kept in check by an embedded business rules validation system.

Not only does WNS Malkom allow users to go paperless, it enables a virtually hands-free BoL process. 

Supply chain leaders can be hesitant about taking on new technologies, especially when it comes to spending money on solutions that may not play well with their legacy systems. To expedite the journey toward all-digital documentation, technology providers need to bridge the gap between old-school systems and their own modern solutions, something WNS does well. 

That means allowing for interoperability between newer solutions like APIs and traditional tools like EDIs. This ability to bring the old and the new together plays a vital role in winning over supply chain partners, especially during the transition phase.

Webb Estes, VP of process improvement at Estes Express Lines, has been working to move the company’s files into the future. While Estes is making strides to ensure the company’s data is easily accessible and exposable, he has noticed some cultural resistance to a digital transformation. As companies start moving toward digitization, they should also be making efforts to get key stakeholders on board with the transition.

“You need to be willing to fail,” Estes said. “Make sure the culture is ready and jump into failure, knowing that on the other side of that is a great opportunity.”

Click here to learn more about how WNS can help guide your company into the supply chain of the future.

The FREIGHTWAVES TOP 500 For-Hire Carriers list includes Estes Express Lines (No. 12).