May 04, 2022

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3 hurdles that keep transportation and logistics an ancient industry

Are you still relying on a 700-year-old document?

Photo of Cara McFarlane

Cara McFarlane

Sales enablement solution marketing manager

A fleet of cargo trucks parked in parallel.

Much has been said about the high-tech future of the transportation and logistics industry — from autonomous trucks and drones to next-gen GPS systems, not to mention the revolutionary potential of the Internet of Things (IoT). 

But even as technological advances have driven transportation and logistics companies to provide faster, cheaper and more flexible services, the industry has a dirty little secret: A love affair with paper.

In fact, transportation and logistics is as much about the movement of paper documents as it is about the movement of goods in the supply chain.

For example, the bill of lading is the main document in air, sea and ground transportation today. Without an original copy, the carrier cannot release the transported cargo at the destination port. Its function has remained largely unchanged since the first boom in maritime technology made international trade possible.

In other words, we’ve relied on the same document for 700 years. 

Administrative processes shouldn’t be ancient

For all the advances in modes of transportation, administratively, the industry still has holdouts using ancient technology (yes, electric typewriters are still in use at some shipping companies today). But relying on the same old processes won’t take your business into the future.

Customer expectations for faster, cheaper transportation have never been greater, both in the B2C and B2B spaces. Digital transformation trends aren’t slowing, and transportation and logistics companies must adopt new technologies and ways of working or risk losing out to more agile, innovative players.

What’s keeping the industry from modernizing?

To do so, organizations need to overcome three major hurdles:

Hurdle #1: Legacy or manual systems at various touchpoints

Take customs brokerage as an example. In customs, a broker facilitates the transaction between an importer and the government. A customs broker may have one of the most advanced customs brokerage applications on the market, but customers often do not.

Now imagine working with customs declarations of goods with more than 10,000 parts being imported into the U.S.

Each one of those parts, along with other data points, needs to be manually keyed in line by line, because the customer can’t get the data into a spreadsheet, and can’t transmit the document electronically. Sending a complete customs declaration document becomes a tedious process that takes several days, causing delays throughout the supply chain.

Hurdle #2: Vast amounts of paper documents

Legacy and manual processes generate vast amounts of paper documents, locking valuable transportation data inside filing cabinets.

Not only do physical storage costs add up, but relying on paper files also makes searching for relevant information a mammoth task that takes up valuable time and resources that could be better spent on higher-value initiatives.

Hurdle #3: Resources spent on low-value, repetitive tasks

When highly skilled staff are burdened with low-value, repetitive tasks like manual data entry, their focus is taken away from mission-critical tasks like analyzing data to make process improvements or adding value to customers.

As long as manual processes keep directing employees’ attention from one paper document to the next, your organization won’t have the resources it needs to overcome inertia and remain competitive in the digital era.