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Why Paper is Limiting the Supply Chain Industry


Why Paper is Limiting the Supply Chain Industry

Through time, means of communication have evolved to meet the needs of those sending and receiving information. Hieroglyphics paved the way for the creation of the alphabet and pigeon carriers preceded the postal service. Paper has done the same for the current digital landscape, however, unlike the means before it, paper has a tendency to linger.

Although it has long been considered the tried and true form of communication, paper is now limiting the supply chain. Shippers, carriers, and retailers experience trials in the industry brought on by limited visibility, truck drivers face inefficiencies and health and safety concerns, and warehouse space is overcome by boxes of files, left to sit for years to come. As industries experience digital transformation, the supply chain must evolve too.


The bill of lading originated during a time when the ability to track a mode of transportation was virtually non-existent. As crates were loaded onto ships and the back of horse-drawn buggies, suppliers simply relied on the ship’s ability to stay afloat and a coachman to stay on path. Today, however, advances in technology trump the need for reliance, as delivery services like Amazon Prime and GrubHub allow consumers to track their items, down to the very street their package or meal is at any given time.

The same should hold true for trucks carrying goods. Yet, the supply chain industry continues to rely on physical bills of lading to transmit important information, creating communication delays and preventing essential information from being shared among shippers, carriers and retailers. By ditching paper and implementing supply chain automation, the anticipation of expecting a load or receiving an approved bill of lading in return is alleviated, allowing shippers, carriers and retailers to utilize time often spent tracking down drivers to make real-time decisions based on evolving developments in the field, including necessary changes to routes, timely responses to customer complaints and detailed planning based on data that paper simply doesn’t provide.

Subsequently, the industry’s reliance on paper costs companies upwards of $3 billion per year in detention fees. Shippers, carriers and retailers rely on drivers to report time spent in detention, oftentimes resulting in best guesses and inaccurate accounts. While companies and drivers don’t conspire to commit detention fraud, inaccurate detention timing is inevitable. Through a more digitized, advanced supply chain automation system, mistakes can and should be removed from the process, allowing companies to reallocate budgets and save billions of dollars every year.


In the same notion, if time is truly money, there is no better instance of shippers, carriers and retailers losing money than through the unnecessary time drivers spend getting in and out of their cabs to deliver physical BOLs. An industry-wide implementation of a supply chain automation platform would allow drivers to remain in their cabs, all while delivering and receiving important information. By providing digital capabilities in sharing this information, drivers can be more efficient in finalizing deliveries, putting them back on the open road sooner and making more money for themselves and the trucking companies.

Health & Safety

Now, more than ever, the ability to remain in-cab while continuing to transmit information during a pick-up or delivery is important, as drivers come face-to-face with multiple people per stop. Not only is the safety of the driver a priority, not having enough staff to man the guard shack, run administrative tasks or load and unload delays deliveries and prevents shippers, carriers and retailers from delivering, carrying and receiving products in a timely manner is a priority as well. While attributed to the manner in which the supply chain has always operated, paper now adds an extra layer of risk to the industry. Enforcing supply chain automation platforms throughout and implementing the use of electronic BOLs eliminates the need for direct contact, protecting and providing reassurance to all parties involved, while ensuring deliveries are executed safely and the health of employees is of the utmost importance.


An issue not specific to the supply chain industry, but certainly one to identify, is the dilemma of what to do with all of the physical bills of lading once copies are delivered and processing is complete. With thousands of deliveries occurring each and every day, the paper has to go somewhere, often resulting in a warehouse full of stacked boxes. Not only does this create clutter and take up unnecessary space, but it also leaves supply chains scrambling to find information when they need it most. The power of supply chain automation allows companies to store paperwork, including BOLs, digitally, saving space and positively impacting the environment.

Although the supply chain struggles to adopt an industry-wide supply chain automation platform, steps can be taken by individual companies to ease the current outdated process shippers, carriers and retailers face. Implementing electronic BOLs, driver workflow and mobile capture can relieve stress on companies and demonstrate the need for an industry-wide standardization to others in the supply chain.


Darren Chan is a co-founder of Vector, a contactless pickup and delivery platform that ensures supply chain partners get the right load to the right place at the right time. Darren grew up witnessing the collaboration difficulties firsthand in his family’s foodservice distribution business and is excited to help build and deliver modern, user-friendly solutions to the industry. Prior to Vector, Darren was the Director of Design at Addepar, a wealth management platform, which manages more than $2 trillion in client assets.