[Guest Post] 2020: The Perfect Time to Begin Digitizing Your Supply Chain

[Guest Post] 2020: The Perfect Time to Begin Digitizing Your Supply Chain

By Barry Craver, VP of Business Process & Innovation, Old Dominion Freight Line

As we continue to navigate 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing is certain: “touchless” and “contactless” are two new buzzwords in everyone’s vocabulary. Businesses have adapted and pivoted to keep sales up and maintain some semblance of normalcy.

The same goes for shippers who have made changes to their supply chain management to best navigate the pandemic while keeping their employees safe and healthy. Some of these changes are for the best, as the pandemic is pushing the less-than-truckload industry as a whole toward increasing digitization — and more contactless, efficient practices.

For shippers who are just dipping their toe into a more digitized approach, we at Old Dominion Freight Line (OD), recommend starting by digitizing your bill of lading (BOL). A digitized BOL has all the data packets with all the essential information about a shipment’s origin, destination, contents, and more. We have seen other tools in the industry that have traditionally been physical documents, such as delivery receipts, also move to a digital form. And that’s good for supply chains. The earlier that information is digitized, the more accurate and readily available the information will be downstream.

Wondering if it’s worth the switch to electronic vs. paper? Here are the top reasons why using an electronic bill of lading (eBOL) can make a positive difference.

Increased efficiency and lower costs. When customers send an eBOL before OD picks up the freight, we can begin load planning immediately. That way, we maximize the inside of the trailer based on future shipment information instead of relying on our best guess with historical data. All of this digitized data helps us keep rates lower by minimizing transit times and maximizing line haul efficiency.

Less mistakes. When you use an eBOL, there’s less risk for keying in misinformation from paper to a computer. After all, an error in a BOL affects everything in the shipment process from that point forward. When you use an eBOL, information transfer is seamless as all information is passed on electronically, not by individuals writing on or transferring information from paper. Using eBOLs also helps with the billing process, as bills and payments can be generated quicker than paper invoices, translating into faster payments from your customers.

More visibility. We know how important tracking and tracing information is for shippers, and we know they want detailed information about their shipments’ movements in real-time. When you use eBOLs, it’s easier for us to input more information, like reference numbers, into our tracking systems and give a full picture of a shipment’s status. Our customers can then access enhanced data about their shipment to make their own estimated time of arrival calculations and status updates.

Safety during the pandemic. We know shippers want safe and healthy conditions for their workforce, and right now, that means digital, contactless pick-up and delivery. Paper documents like BOLs and proof of delivery receipts may pass through several people with in-person interactions, presenting a greater exposure risk for COVID-19. Using eBOLs not only speeds up the shipping process, but it also offers electronic proof of delivery receipt. Less contact, more efficiency. It’s a win-win situation.

How can you get started using eBOLs? Getting set up with an ODFL4me.com account or a digitized transportation-management system (TMS) is key — and as simple as an Internet search and sign-up for the system of your choice. Once you’re set up with ODFL4me.com or a cloud-based TMS, OD integrations can easily add eBOLs into our system. It’s a great first step in the digital direction we think will be the industry norm in the very near future.

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