Document management: high-quality logistics through automation

Together with artificial intelligence, document management systems can accelerate the workflow of logistics service providers and significantly improve the quality of stored data.

Most logistics service providers still have room-filling shelves with dusty files. Invoices, delivery notes, fuel bills and waybills are stored within these archives. Nevertheless, this way of filing will soon become obsolete. In the process of digitisation, the demand for document management systems (DMS) is increasing rapidly. According to a study by the market research institute Mordor Intelligence, worldwide annual sales within this sector will climb to EUR 8.4 billion by 2025. In 2019, this value was just under EUR 4 billion, which corresponds to an annual increase of over 13 percent.

Increasing motivation

The reason for this is the high potential for making a strong case with regards to the use of a DMS. A DMS digitises and accelerates the filing and search process and relieves employees of annoying and unexciting activities in connection with these. This way, real estate and labour costs decrease while employee motivation increases.

A document management system has many advantages:

  • Centralised data storage
  • Avoiding archive rooms
  • Reduced search times
  • Streamlined email mailboxes
  • Lower paper costs
  • Lower printing and delivery costs
  • Accelerated business processes
  • Easier compliance with legal requirements
  • Simplified knowledge transfer
  • Documents are available anytime, anywhere
  • Version control and audit compliance
  • Time savings through optimised processes

Despite all these advantages, Document Management Systems are not yet widespread in small and medium-sized companies. We know this from the findings of a study by the German market research institute Statista from July 2020, in which 1,441 office workers in medium-sized companies with up to 500 desks were asked about their document processes. 56 percent of those surveyed said they were still at the beginning of digitisation. In around 25 percent of companies, the paperless office is not even discussed.

Drilling down to the logistics industry, the picture becomes clearer. The new edition of the study “Trends and strategies in logistics and supply chain management” by the Bundesvereinigung Logistik (BVL) presents this conclusion. Between February and March 2020, BVL surveyed around 300 logisticians from trade, industry and services. Almost all logisticians associate great opportunities with digitisation, whereby the status of implementation is rated as “relatively low” overall. The exceptions, however, include mobile data access for employees and the use of web-based communication platforms. Even before COVID-19, these were considered by the logisticians to be an important foundation for location-independent work - the implementation status is correspondingly high here. Document management systems are not explicitly mentioned in the BVL study. However, they are the prerequisite for comprehensive mobile data access, which also includes mobile access to waybills, delivery notes and delivery receipts.

A clear recommendation to invest

“Document management systems are already widespread in logistics because the solutions are very mature and readily available. This reduces the risk of bad investments, which is particularly important for smaller logistics service providers with limited IT budgets," confirms Prof. Dr. Christian Kille from the Institute for Applied Logistics (IAL) at the University of Applied Sciences Würzburg-Schweinfurt. A study published by the University of St. Gallen in 2018 confirms this assessment. The study with the title “Digitisation tools in logistics: application potential, maturity level and value contribution” gives a clear recommendation: “The high level of development and a multitude of advantages make the tool interesting. For this reason, logistics service providers should invest in the short term."

Document management plays a leading role in the digitisation of logistics for other reasons as well: A DMS ensures the connection between analog and digital processes. This technology can be used even if all other processes have not yet been fully transformed. The best examples are delivery notes and waybills, which many customers of the freight forwarders still require as hard copies. The higher the value of the goods, the lower the trust in digital documents and signatures. This is particularly noticeable for container logisticians who wanted to introduce the digital waybill for years but fail due to their customer’s opposition. Perhaps, only blockchain will be able to help the digital waybill achieve a breakthrough on a broader scale. Until then, documents must be scanned and archived by the transport company after the driver has returned. The receipts can then be forwarded to the client and invoiced.

Mapping with Artificial Intelligence

Depending on the technology, the scanning process can be very time-consuming, because each result must be correctly assigned and provided with keywords and search terms. This work is made more difficult by handwritten notes and amendments if, for example, damage to the packaging of the goods was found. With this in mind, there are some document management systems that are specifically developed to solve many of such situations. One example is DOX Detect from Qubiz. The correct assignment and interpretation of the scanned data is done here with the help of artificial intelligence, which largely automates the scanning process. Based on this, we can call it DMA (Document Management Automation).

DOX Detect offers a portal that processes, analyses and evaluates digitised documents. It uses a machine learning algorithm and optical character recognition to classify documents. In the first phase, various documents are uploaded to the portal. Each file is then automatically assigned to a category such as “fuel receipt” or “CMR waybill”. A matching algorithm compares the recognised information with the data of the forwarding software, the transport management or ERP system. DOX Detect searches specifically for shipment numbers, loading and unloading addresses or order numbers. A degree of importance can be assigned to each of these data fields beforehand, and at the end of the process a score is calculated which signals the confidence of an identified match.

A self-learning algorithm

If certain values ​​are not reached, further manual or automated actions are triggered. The employee can immediately find out whether the uploaded document has been accepted by the system. If not, he can try again with a better scan. The high accuracy of the self-learning algorithm means that only around 10 percent of the documents have to be post-processed manually.

The Dutch logistics service provider Van den Bosch can confirm this. The company, founded in 1964, is one of the top 10 European bulk forwarding companies with an annual volume of 2.7 million tons. Their core business is the transport of liquid and dry bulk goods for the food and chemical industries. Qubiz is a long-term IT service partner of Van den Bosch and DOX Detect was developed during the course of their close, daily cooperation. It was put in production over a year ago.

Simplified workflows

"Thanks to the existing API interface, DOX Detect was implemented without major investments", states Chief Digital Officer Pirke van den Elsen. At Van den Bosch, DOX Detect simplifies the workflow with their contractors. “We use DOX Detect in connection with our platform, on which our partners can find their orders, enter the current order status and upload the delivery receipts and other documents. If less than 80 percent of the documents are recognised, the partner is asked to upload them again,” says van den Elsen, describing the process.

Before the introduction of DOX Detect, Van den Bosch's subcontractors could upload any document without checking it. It was only at a later date that it sometimes turned out that the documents were not the right ones. “Now that we scan documents directly when they are uploaded, we avoid incomplete or incorrect documents from the start. That saves time for everyone involved,” says van den Elsen. Incidentally, the participants in the Statista study mentioned at the beginning also share this assessment: 41 percent of those surveyed expect that they can save one to two hours a day with a DMS. One in four put the time savings at more than two hours. There is great potential here.

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