At MacGregor, we talk about how the electronic bill of lading (eBOL) market requires a specific solution to unlock cross-enterprise value and drive adoption. It needs to meet shippers and their partners where they are today, while enabling the shipper to extract all the benefits from digitized documents and streamlined, contactless driver orchestration. The market demands a solution flexible enough to bridge the realities, complexities, and challenges of present-day to the nirvana of a fully digital, contactless, and automated yard of tomorrow.
But what does that digital and contactless yard of the future look like? What are its key tenets? What are the benefits to organizations? This blog offers a glimpse into that future.
Enterprise Connective Tissue
Historically fulfillment and distribution sit separately from transportation and logistics. The warehouse is focused on fulfilling orders while transportation is focused on lowest cost reliable mode of freight transport. Once a truck is loaded and the driver signs a bill of lading, the trailer is under control of the driver. And from here on, it becomes the responsibility of transportation or logistics to manage and track through delivery. This long-standing division is baked into many organizations and systems, and it prevents proactive responses to exceptions.
Traditionally, the communication that crosses the distribution-logistics barrier is in the form of static EDI, which has not changed materially in 30 years. Order downloads (EDI 940), shipment confirmations (EDI 945), and others are sent once, used mainly to bookend lengthy processes. This limited communication protocol creates substantial visibility deserts.
Clever organizations recognized that in a world of exceptions, real-time visibility to data across the entire supply chain is necessary to meet customer expectations. These firms seek to eliminate silos between groups and systems, sharing data across the enterprise.
These same organizations have recognized the unique position of an eBOL solution in the supply chain. Perfectly placed at the juncture between inventory at rest (in a facility) and inventory in motion (in transport), visionary eBOL solutions blur the traditional lines between fulfillment and transportation. These systems have access to warehouse data, driver geo-data, document data, and yard data.
Imagine the ability to share that data, in real-time, with every adjacent system in the supply chain, or even the customer. What manual steps could be eliminated through this seamless data exchange? How much could an organization improve its customer experience and proactively react to disruption?
An eBOL solution with a flexible API and data management layer makes this a reality.
Forbes reports $10B are spent annually automating the inside of manufacturing and distribution facilities. Warehouses have a veritable buffet of automation options: AMRs, AGVs, conveyance, RPA, ASRS, autonomous forklifts, and a bevy of other acronyms. Lost in this sea of investment and advancement is the opportunity for automation in the yard — more specifically, the guard shack.
While operational practitioners recognize yard security is a necessity, they would love nothing more than the ability to slash or eliminate this line item from their budget. Most have done what they can by outsourcing the labor, but the spend is still significant –- often hundreds of thousands of dollars each year per yard.
Traditionally, the guard-shack role serves several functions. First, the guard captures the driver and trailer information and provides a driver with their initial set of instructions. Second, they may operate a gate or other tool that allows ingress/egress to and from a facility. Third, they may check trailers into and out of the facilities warehouse management system (WMS).
How can this process be reimagined in the yard of the future, so guards focus instead on security?
Here too, an eBOL and Driver Orchestration solution sits in a unique position. Using a self-service kiosk or in-cab check-in, the yard of future handles trailer information capture without labor. The same kiosk or mobile application can support document ingestion and provide initial instruction on next steps. The thoughtful use of cameras and images can validate correct trailers and seals and support remote inspections to identify trailer damage or issues. An eBOL solution’s API capabilities can interact with the gate controls to open/close as necessary as well as check trailers into and out of a WMS. All of this is buttressed by a remote guard monitoring multiple facilities, handling exceptions, and ensuring smooth operations, at a far lower cost.
How much money could each of your facilities save by automating the guard shack and reducing or eliminating that labor cost?
Multi-System Yard Automation
Much of a driver’s workflow from arrival to departure requires facility personnel to manage data and cues across multiple systems. Appointment times are validated in external systems, yard and dock door assignments are received and keyed into a WMS or YMS, seals and refrigerated trailer temperatures are recorded and managed in the WMS, and so on. Operators interact with many different systems to complete a basic trailer check-in/check-out workflow.
In the yard of the future, as drivers arrive and begin the self-service check-in process, the eBOL solution dynamically requests optimal dock door assignment based upon the putaway locations of the inbound product or the staging location of the outbound shipment. Appointment times and windows can be validated through the eBOL self-service check-in capabilities, with site- and carrier-specific responses to drivers that arrive too early or too late. Trailer seal, weight scale, and temperature check validations are executed through thoughtfully placed cameras with embedded AI/ML capabilities, eliminating labor-intensive steps in a driver’s yard journey. With Real-Time Transportation Visibility (RTTV) solutions like project44 or Four Kites, this flow occurs before the driver even arrives at the facility, planning docks and yard locations based on non-static arrival times.
The digital yard of the future will connect yards between and across organizations. When both the receiver and shipper are able digitally enabled, they can pass data directly to each other via the eBOL solution. We refer to this as a, ‘closed loop’ eBOL workflow.
With cross-yard workflows, information about the contents of the load and driver is immediately known to the receiver. Data elements like the trailer, driver, carrier, and seal are shared between the eBOL solution, and the driver’s data and BOL is ‘digital’ from its inception. This closed-loop paradigm opens the door for an expedited in-cab driver experience, what we call FastPass, between the two digital parties.
Cross-company workflows enable further, powerful accelerators – such as facilitating the claims process. Overages, shortages, damages, or other issues can be recorded by the receiver and digitally annotated, communicated back to the shipper alongside inspection images and digital claims forms. The eBOL solution provides all parties access to the same data, improving time to resolution and responsiveness. Follow-on actions, such as credits, order corrections, and so forth are triggered automatically. Use cases extend well beyond claims, and eBOL becomes a pillar of responsive customer support for any shipper.
Whether intra- or inter-company, a closed-loop eBOL workflow provides myriad opportunities.
The pandemic reinforced the need for organizations to plan for the known while maintaining flexibility in the face of the unpredictable. Flexible workflows and data availability are foundational to tomorrow’s solutions. Imagine a future where data is expected to be shared instantaneously. A future where the adoption of self-driving or autonomous vehicles is expected. Perhaps a future where chargebacks are a common cost to delivering with paper.
Organizations embracing the yard of the future will be ready for that reality – and we see the right eBOL solution as the key. The winning eBOL solution will act as the shared digital backbone spanning all shippers, receivers, and transportation providers. A platform that shares data, documents, and updates real-time to all interested parties, facilitating and easing commerce.