According to a white paper by the World Economic Forum and Accenture, the digital transformation in the field of logistics is expected to result in $1.5 trillion value at stake by 2025. And this is no small feat, if we consider that the transportation and logistics industry is currently marred by a significant amount of ineffective behaviours, such as half the trucks travelling empty on the way back after making a delivery, which have a negative effect on industrial productivity.
Use of robotic process automation in transportation and logistics, by putting data at the heart of logistics businesses (read logistics control towers, or analytics as a service), can streamline the workflow and thus reduce overall operating costs and greatly improve operational efficiency. What does this really mean?
But there is more than just financial gain for individual businesses. The above cited white paper envisages that the positive repercussions of transportation and logistics going digital at society level are going to reach $2.4 trillion. So the potential of digitisation is forecast to cross the industry borders and have a positive impact over society and environment.
This being said, you might start to wonder what exactly is the contribution of robotic process automation to the digital revolution in logistics. Let’s answer this question by looking at a couple of RPA use cases in transportation and logistics. We will thus go on to list 8 processes that are improved when swapping manual for digital performance.
Real world use cases for RPA in transportation and logistics
1. Shipment scheduling and tracking
Initial pick-up requests, or checking and reporting shipment status between internal systems and portals are rule based, low exception and high volume tasks in logistics. This is to say that the subprocesses of shipping look like they “were made for software robots”.
Bots’ capacity for data management can be put to good use for extraction of shipment details from incoming emails, or for logging jobs in scheduling systems. The perfectly accurate provision of pick-up times in customer or carrier portals can considerably increase customers’ satisfaction with your services.
2. Invoice processing and credit collections
Software robots are the right choice to carry out this process because of their integrative capacity which can streamline the workflow. End-to end automation of order-to-cash processes for many (read, hundreds) large third party logistics (3PL) carriers is achievable since bots can integrate with the commercial transportation of goods.
RPA thus helps to surmount a major challenge for logistics companies, namely, getting paid in due time after fulfilling a job.
3. Order and inventory processing
This is the nightmare of manual work, due to the large amount of data entry that must be performed to process shipping and invoicing information. But this is also the reason why it is such a relevant robotic process automation use case in transportation and logistics.
Bots can automatically pick up shipments’ PRO numbers from the carrier’s website. Afterwards, tracking information and invoice amount is a piece of cake. A CSR is asked for guidance only if irregularities occur, and this is not too often, thereby reducing human intervention to a minimum.
4. Capturing, researching and closing out loads
Working with third party carriers and suppliers, e.g., using couriers for less-than-load (LTL) shipments, is certainly an advancement towards expanding your business, but it comes with a cost: the need to track multiple systems. This cost is minimised by use of software robots, which can automatically scan the carrier’s website and capture PRO numbers, or invoice amounts, and subsequently close out loads in no time.
Effective communication with customers via email is a sine qua non condition for competitive logistics businesses that aim to reinforce customers’ loyalty. RPA can help by automatically sending notifications through the system to let customers know when an order is processed, shipped, or delayed.
6. Procurement and inventory
Inventory monitoring is crucial for manufacturers and suppliers alike, because it provides a way to make sure that customers’ demands can be addressed. Procurement and inventory are data management processes, which require extracting the needed data from various databases and checking it against what the customers want.
This is precisely what software robots do best. They are well able to also use real-time reports for inventory optimisation.
7. Speed invoicing
If you pass this process on to bots, you remove from your employees’ shoulders burdensome and error-prone tasks such as re-keying, cutting-and-pasting, and manually attaching data (e.g., shipping data) to invoices.
The whole process, from shipping data extraction to updating customer portals, becomes a matter of seconds, not of days (as is the case with manual invoicing).
8. Order and inventory tracking
Retrieval of proof of delivery information by regularly checking carrier websites is a very tedious activity for humans, but one that is perfectly suited for software bots. They can be leveraged to link the retrieved information to the original order record and thereby facilitate order tracking and improve customer responsiveness.
David Rogers from ICSM Australia nicely summarises the role of RPA in transportation and logistics when he says that “the supply chain is ripe for RPA to increase efficiencies and reduce costs”. This is precisely the conclusion emerging from these 8 RPA use cases in transportation and logistics.
The most notable result of effectively leveraging robotic process automation is improved overall customer satisfaction. Because most of the benefits we mentioned throughout this article ultimately improve customers’ experience with your supply chain organisation, RPA aligns well with a customer centric approach that more and more transportation and logistics businesses adhere to.
We end by mentioning once again that this is part of a series of articles about the particularities of RPA in different sectors like telecom, HR, or healthcare, pragmatically oriented towards application areas. If you find the information useful, subscribe to the newsletter below to make sure that you stay updated with news about the fast-evolving automation services.