The image of a mountain of paper on a logistics manager’s desk might seem a little exaggerated in the literal sense. But the freight forwarding business can often be pretty close to accurate in the figurative sense. Reducing the clutter, be it logistics paperwork or the electronic equivalent, has always been difficult. However, there is good news because AI-driven freight document process automation is here to make it much easier for managers and businesses to reduce that mountain and get back on top of their games.
Why Is There So Much Unstructured Data in Freight Forwarding?
Manual analog logistics paperwork can leave a freight forwarder feeling like trying to drive a truck stuck in first gear. There is always a chance to get up to full speed. Here are some reasons why that truck can’t move ahead any faster:
- In the logistics business, most of the accounting processes are paper-based and tedious. Freight Forwarders depend heavily on paper documents for most of their accounting process requirements. That list of freight documents seems almost endless at times — invoices, statements of account, bills of lading, certificates of origin statements, inspection certificates, export licenses, packing lists, etc.
- Electronic documents can be more convenient than paper-based ones, but there’s still the misplacement problem. They can often be stuck inside hundreds of emails, WhatsApp chats, and other disparate communications on other channels. There can be many documents inside each one of these communications. For instance, one statement of account may include 30 different documents or invoices in one email, which needs to be rekeyed into a platform like CargoWise. This data entry can be rife with potential errors and is exceedingly time-consuming.
- The entire freight document workflow usually consists of steps involving manual operations, further complicating and delaying the process.
- Freight forwarding operations involve huge volumes of documents and data. With the increase in e-commerce, the volume has further increased.
- There is always the possibility of errors in calculations, invoice generation, and reconciliation due to the repetitive nature of manual tasks.
- It becomes highly inconvenient for shippers to track through different channels to get real-time information from various vendors in the supply chain network.
- There is also an issue with validating data consistency across all the documentation because different parties use systems from different vendors.
- Most organizations in the logistics industry still rely upon manually processing paper-based invoices for validation and approval of payments to suppliers in their supply chain networks.
How AI and Automation Turn Logistics Paperwork into Digitized, Usable, Structured Data
With the rapid growth seen in digital automation using artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, it has become possible to automate and digitize accounting processes adeptly.
What is Structured Data?
Structured data is in a standardized format with a clear structure, follows a consistent order, and is easily accessible for people and programs. It conforms with a data model and has fixed fields in a file.
What is Possible Once Paperwork-Unstructured Data is Digitized?
Let’s take a look at some use cases for how structured; digitized data can lead to a new world of improvements:
- Accruals can be reconciled versus invoices from shipments. When totals do not line up, the AI automation will flag discrepancies and instantly correct them. At Rose Containerline, which partners with Expedock, employees could reduce time doing manual data entry and have more time for customers. Results in a few months of automating workflows shortened the cash cycle from weeks to a couple days.
- Statements of account can be reconciled against what was posted by freight agents: Automation can extract each line item and can also handle different permutations and multiple pages. All invoices can be audited with the click of a button. After feeling its previous technology provider was too slow to cover everyday freight use cases, Clear Freight wanted a speedier process and went with Expedock.
- Knowing quickly when a bill needs to be paid: With a dashboard built from Expedock’s digitized data, the freight forwarder can rapidly see which arrival notices are ready to be paid in the next five days. “It’s been amazing,” a ClearFreight specialist said of the Expedock data. “I never miss billing an invoice anymore. I have a report of all the invoices I need to bill, and all the charges are already there. … It saves me 5-10 minutes for each invoice.”
- Creating, amending shipment and consolidation files: Expedock’s AI automation can instantly extract information from any bill of lading and booking confirmation to create a related shipment on Cargowise. Information — like time stamps, container numbers, and ETA and ETD — can be transferred easily. For Expedock customer Ascent Global, the process means its staff no longer has to focus on data entry of commercial invoices and bills of lading when creating or amending a shipment. They forward the freight document packet to Expedock, and the shipment is created or amended on Cargowise.
- Cleaning up the processing of commercial invoices and packing lists: More than 20 different pieces — from the manufacturer to payment type to the vessel name — can be extracted with the help of Expedock’s AI automation of commercial invoices and packing lists.
- Apprised of shipment milestones in real-time: Business performance graphs compiled from data assimilated by Expedock’s automation can help shippers visualize how shipments compare per milestone or operator categories.
- Scaling your business while not increasing the workforce: With Expedock’s automation taking care of so many responsibilities, clients don’t have to worry about increasing employee headcount to keep up with an increase in business. JUSDA Supply Chain Management, a long-time Expedock customer, no longer needed to spend time and money on recruitment and training to grow their business aggressively because automation could handle recordkeeping even with a higher volume of customers.
- Shifting staff to revenue-generating tasks: As a tangent benefit, AI automation frees up employees from data entry and documentation tasks so they can switch to other roles, like sales. MHM, a freight forwarder and Expedock customer, had a 30% increase in revenue because Expedock's full-service solution opened up a chance for its staff to focus on upselling and increasing volume from its shippers.
Results of Eliminating Manual Logistics Paperwork in Freight Forwarding Accounting Operations
Getting rid of manual logistics paperwork and replacing it with automated technology can open a whole new world for freight forwarding accounting operations. Let’s look at some real-world examples:
- Before choosing to go with Expedock’s AI technology, Rose Containerline’s operators were overwhelmed by thousands of drayage invoices, leading to data entry errors and shortcuts that caused account transparency issues. The company, which has 30 years of industry experience and operates in more than 50 countries, was able to greatly improve its bill payment and invoice auditing processes by partnering with Expedock. Improving the cash flow cycle by three to five days meant saving the company nearly $500,000 in labor by reducing operational expenditures by 80%. Rose Containerline also caught $16,000 in invoice discrepancies with automated auditing.
- The legacy operators at the Mallory Group were initially skeptical of taking on a new software partner. But rather quickly went from crying for overwork to crying tears of joy because Expedock’s AI processed a 38-page commercial invoice at 99.97% accuracy.
- Ascent Global Logistics was having a problem of knowing which arrival notices to pay based on the most up-to-date ETA of a shipment. Because Expedock already automates Ascent’s data entry and auditing of arrival notices, the founding team was able to build an MVP of a data product on top of the existing infrastructure for Ascent that could fulfill this need within a week of the subject being brought up to Expedock. Ascent’s founders believe Expedock allows forwarders to reallocate their time to higher-leverage work. Documentation automation is simply a subset of what Expedock truly provides.
- ClearFrieght’s operations team says Expedock saves each individual operator at least 10 to 12 hours. That translates into no overtime and allows employees to focus on learning new regulations, troubleshooting logistical issues, and expediting billing and collections. According to ClearFreight’s operations managers, Expedock has become a real differentiator for their team to importers and exporters as they can quickly focus on responding to customer calls and inquiries while resolving freight-related issues because they no longer have to think about manual documentation work.
- The branch manager at Alisped, an Italian freight forwarder in Los Angeles that specializes in luxury goods, says Expedock has given back time to his operators to focus on responding to customers, scheduling deliveries, ensuring billing is correct, and collecting on time. “We used a different AP provider for a few months before Expedock,”
said Lorenzo Giusti, Alisped’s general manager. The previous provider “had low accuracy and a lot of cases they could not support. Expedock was able to automate edge cases and complex freight documents based on our flow chart and process.”
- When JUSDA Supply Chain Management joined Expedock, JUSDA's accounting and operations teams within the international freight management department could learn best practices on Cargowise processes within billing and collections. By introducing the new processes, Expedock can automate thousands of man hours monthly for JUSDA.
With Expedock, You Can Make the Logistics Paperwork Mountain Come Tumbling Down
With freight document process automation, freight forwarders can lay flat that mound of unnecessary logistics paperwork and free up many hours to help companies thrive in other aspects. As the above examples show, there are plenty of ways that AI automation can take a company to the next level. Expedock can be the perfect partner to make that move up. For a free trial, visit our website.