3 Steps to Inbound Shipping Automation

Written by: Marilynn Leonard, New Business Development Executive for Xpertek Contact 

Have you ever walked through a warehouse or loading dock? If you have, you probably saw people with hard hats and bright vests, conveyor belts, stock items, forklifts, and vehicles methodically interacting like a well drilled army battalion.

Supporting these highly efficient visible processes are back-office admin staff and processes which also need to be as efficient, accurate and reliable. These processes are all predominantly data driven, and the accuracy of this data is key to your business being able to deliver the right product to the right customer at the right time – the first time.

The question is how do you ensure 99,9% data accuracy and increased inbound shipping process efficiency? We will explain how we helped a client increase data accuracy to 99,9% and save 5 days of processing time a month using digital process automation technologies in their inbound shipping process.

What is Digital Process Automation?

Very simply it is using various technologies to automate tasks and processes to optimize workflows where humans interact with software systems.

It can include several technologies such as RPA (Robotic Process Automation), IDP (Intelligent Document Processing), ML (Machine Learning) and Chatbots to name a few.

We will unpack how we are using RPA from our partner Openbots (www.openbots.org ) and IDP from Ephesoft (www.ephesoft.com ) to increase data accuracy and drive back-office efficiency in inbound shipping.

At a high level we follow 3 steps in the process: (The order of these steps is all dependent on the client process)

  1. Data Extraction
  2. Data Capture
  3. Data Matching

1.    Data Extraction from Waybills, Delivery Notes and Invoices

Shipping involves loads of documentation such as waybills (sea and air), delivery notes, goods receipt vouchers, invoices and purchase orders. Staff members then need to consolidate these docs per shipment and capture all the required data into ERP’s, stock management systems, SARS systems etc. This manual capture is time-consuming, error-prone and the same data is often captured into multiple systems.

These documents are generally received in a digital format so using Intelligent Document Processing (IDP) which is a sophisticated form of OCR, we are able to identify the document type, and extract the relevant data elements from each document type. We now have the raw data available electronically to use anywhere in the shipping process. This eliminates the need for manual data capture and increases data accuracy. Staff are freed up to focus on exceptions and decision making instead of mundane data capture.

2.    Data Capture

Once the data has been extracted from various documents, it must find its way to various line of business systems. Robots or Bots login to line of business systems and capture this extracted data via the user interface (UI) just a human would (or via an API where available). Bots are however super speedy and don’t make mistakes. They process in a fraction of the time and can work 24×7. The digital document can also be automatically uploaded to the line of business system if required. Using Bots our client saved three to four hours per manual shipment. For this particular client, the bot processes 76 shipments in 3 hours with no mistakes.

The bot is given its own login credentials, so all this capture activity (whether via the UI or API) is auditable.

3.    Data Matching

Now that the accurate data has been extracted from source documents and captured into line of business systems, we are able to compare this data to the data you already have in your systems. Instead of staff having to manually compare all this data by printing out documents and doing a manual comparison or having computer screens side by side and ticking items electronically, we let bots do this repetitive work. We automate what people hate.

An example is comparing the purchase order data in your ERP to the goods received data and invoice data and trigger a payment. Bots love this kind of work; they will spot any exceptions and then notify a human accordingly who can investigate further. Should no exceptions exist, the matching process can carry on at speed.

Benefits of Inbound Shipping Automation

The ability to process inbound shipments quicker and incredibly accurately means that goods can be sent out to customers quicker, resulting in improved customer service, ability to invoice earlier, reduced holding costs and improved cash flow. This process efficiency will make your supply chain process more profitable by reducing costs. It will allow you process increasing volumes without adding to your headcount.

If you have bottle necks in your current inbound shipping process or are expecting increased volumes, we will welcome the opportunity to discuss your challenges and how digital process automation can assist you. We understand this market, we speak your language, and we are ready to listen, engage and advise on the best, most cost effective solution for your business.

Xpertek Contact is an expert automation solutions provider utilizing industry-leading RPA, IDP and workflow solutions to enable digital transformation for mid-sized to large organisations in the financial and logistics and supply chain sectors. We are also a proud member of the BBD Group of companies (www.bbdsoftware.com).

To start a conversation please reach out to us at contact@xpertek.co.za or directly to marilynn.leonard@xpertek.co.za