Extending the paperless mandate

Vice President Sales | Descartes Systems UK

Technologies to enable effective, paperless operations have been in place for many years.  Yet despite the proven benefits of reduced cost, improved efficiency and enhanced customer service, too many organisations wait until paperless processes are mandated through legislation or competitive pressures before making the move.

Even then, while individual business areas are exploring automated route optimisation, mobile applications and telematics solutions to improve customer experience, enable more cost effective operations and deliver accountability, this information is rarely shared across the business, creating siloes of good practice.

When businesses face escalating customer demands and continued cost pressures why wait to be directed towards paperless when the benefits are clear and proven?  It is time to proactively embrace an end to end paperless supply chain that leverages accurate, real time information sharing to deliver significant competitive advantage.

Tactical paperless

From digital tachographs to track driver hours to online driving licence verification, the majority of road transport operators have adopted paperless technologies by necessity rather than strategy.  Yet in every case, once implemented, organisations gain immediate benefits, from cost reduction to improved customer service.

Automated routeing and scheduling for example, transforms on time delivery and reduces costs; while electronic Proof of Delivery (PoD) reduces fraud, speeds up invoicing and reduces Day Sales Outstanding (DSO).  Replacing paper documents with electronic systems improves accuracy by reducing errors; it cuts costs, including the cost of processing paper based documents and it creates visibility and therefore accountability.  As a result, companies can not only meet compliance demands but also have the opportunity to enhance customer service and improve operational processes.

Despite the fact that companies are reluctant to embrace paperless technologies until compelled by law or customer demand, this model is easy to adopt.  There is no need to wait for the entire supply chain to be ready – a hybrid world operates well.  Even if customers and clients are still proffering paper documents, simple hand held scanning solutions can enable paperless operations.  Given these proven benefits, why are organisations still adopting a reactive approach to going paperless?

End to end

The fact is that while all of these technologies deliver measurable and proven benefits, there is significant additional potential to move beyond siloed deployments and join up paperless operations to drive greater value.  But this can only be achieved if organisations embrace a strategic approach to paperless technologies and proactively extend real time information and electronic processing across the entire operation.

• For example, using digital tachographs to manage driver hours is key to reducing the chances of breaking the law.  Yet this information is also valuable outside the traditional compliance remit – it should form an essential component of the automated route scheduling process.  Rather than relying on manual updates of, typically, paper based drivers’ hours information, a direct feed from the electronic driver hours solution into the paperless route planning software ensures this key criterion is included within the planning process by default.

With this aspect of the process automatically taken into account, the schedule can be planned far more efficiently – there is no need for drivers to park up in laybys for a rest or to wait for delivery slots due to the excessive contingency built into the schedule.  Critically, no company or driver will have to face the iniquitous choice between breaking the law and breaking a customer delivery promise.  By simply extending the mandated requirement for tracking driver hours across the rest of the business, a company can gain significant incremental value.

• For example, growing numbers of organisations are discovering that customers, such as retailers and restaurant chains, are assessing a transport company’s performance as much on its operational processes as its delivery performance.  These businesses will no longer accept scrawled paper delivery notes that require manual rekeying into finance systems and, more often than not, lead to invoice disputes.  They have adopted straight through processing to drive down costs – and they expect their suppliers to follow suit.  The reality is that in an increasingly paperless world, an organisation’s competitive position can be fundamentally undermined by a continued reliance upon paper in any area of the business, however slick the rest of the operation may be.

Adopting this approach, however, not only delivers competitive advantage but clear bottom line value, irrespective of customer expectations or processes.  Combining electronic orders with hand held PoD increases information accuracy by removing the confusion associated with paper based orders and the errors associated with rekeying has a significant impact on reducing invoice disputes.  Furthermore by pushing information directly from the PoD into the finance system, a company can speed up the invoice process, cut the delivery to payment timeline and improve cash flow.
 
In conclusion

Going paperless is no longer an option – it is increasingly mandated by government departments and standards bodies.  But paperless is not just about compliance – it is about replacing outdated, often inaccurate data with real-time, accurate, sharable information that can support critical business processes.

There is a tangible opportunity for organisations to move beyond siloed paperless implementations and create a joined up model that enables effective, end to end information sharing that can truly transform operations.  Paperless is no longer a departmental or compliance initiative; it should be a strategic objective.

www.descartes.com