July 7, 2021

The True Cost of Manual Data Entry for Freight Forwarders

Data entry is both time consuming and expensive. It demands a lot of resources to maintain very high standards of accuracy and for freight forwarders that are handling increasing volumes of documentation each day, errors can get costly, very quickly.

The cost of continuing to use manual data entry goes beyond the wages paid for the staff to do it. There are unseen costs wrapped up within reconciling the data, there is the impact of errors on customer relationships, reputational damage and then there is the potentially huge cost in losing competitive advantage.

Why is data entry expensive for freight forwarders?

The process of receiving documents via email or even paper, reading and understanding the meaning, accessing the CRM, creating new records, entering the data, then checking the accuracy all takes time. Collating any kind of information from a semi-structured document and entering it perfectly into an ERP or logistics management system is a tedious one. It takes away precious time that could otherwise be used for value-added services, creative problem solving, contingency planning or customer engagement. Values may be inputted incorrectly, data may need to be located within different systems, it may exist in various file formats or require double-checking and correcting.

Anything that takes staff members away from their core function is almost always detrimental to service quality, with career development, new business generation and existing customer engagement all likely to suffer at some point.

The true cost of allowable discrepancies

How much would you be willing to write-off in discrepancies? Every year millions of dollars are lost from across the supply chain by companies not auditing their invoices. Operational discrepancies easily occur at any point during the lifespan of a shipment and more often than not do not get identified. In most cases, companies allow 10-15% of invoice discrepancies to pass through without proper review because it takes too much effort from their team. Those ignored charges quickly add up.

Some companies turn to optical character recognition (OCR), which can extract data from invoices and other documents, however this only recognises text from image-based scans or PDFs with a poor level of accuracy. Similarly, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) tools can work when all the documents are very similar in nature and don’t change much. They are limited in what they can achieve, however, often incur large set up costs to implement and rely on using templates to set the rules for collecting the data from specific coordinates within the digital image.

Freight forwarders can receive many differing invoice layouts from very different companies, using different terminology. As such, for every new type of invoice, a new template with new rules must be created and then maintained. It still needs that human element to handle tasks such as data extraction, entry, audit/reconciliation, quality assurance, discrepancy flagging and reporting.

Unlocking the benefits of process automation

Intelligent automation is key to improving business performance as it automates all of these key tasks. AI-powered data extraction does not require the same kind of templates or human intervention to take data from one document and enter it into a management system. It frees up employees to focus on other value-add tasks, making for a compelling proposition.

By not adopting the latest process automation services, freight forwarders can make it harder to be flexible and resilient to sudden changes. These don’t always have to be negative ones like service disruption, it could be in trying to grow. Inefficiencies can make it harder to quickly scale up the business as you take them with you. More shippers, more consignments, more routes, more modes, all mean more paperwork. 

Modern supply chains rely on their digital capabilities and the rise of digital freight forwarders have changed the industry forever. Thanks to ecommerce the number of transactions and volumes are set to continue to grow ever faster with the demand for faster shipments also increasing. This ongoing trend means the sheer volume of admin will make growing a forwarding business without adopting a digital, automated approach extremely challenging. Increasing M&A activity among multinationals continues to tighten profit margins across the sector and the recent rate hikes in ocean freight forwarding are reshaping demand forecasting. Wages across the G20 countries are continuing to rise, and with competition comes increasing customer expectations around speed and added costs around real-time visibility of their shipments.

In the modern era of digitalization, medium-sized freight forwarders need to keep pace with the latest technologies. If not, they risk losing customers through errors or poor experience, talented staff through lack of engagement and could stifle future growth plans. 

Forwarders need to examine what the impact and true cost of practices such as manual data entry is having on their business. 

Why not try a live demo of the Expedock solution today and put manual data entry behind you for good.

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