The history of logistics is also a history of automation. From the steam engine to the forklift to today’s robotic pickers and packers, the evolution of technology has also been a significant part of the industry’s evolution.  

While there is precedent for accelerating and prioritizing automation in data entry, some logistics companies have not yet fully taken the plunge, and it could be costing them dearly.  

“Relying on physical paperwork and manual data entry can be time-consuming and expensive, especially when navigating lockdowns or managing time-sensitive shipments,” says Darren Matthews, Global Business Development Analyst at WiseTech Global.  

“With so much ongoing disruption across the industry, digital transformation initiatives are a priority, from the board level down. It really is the ideal time to try and eliminate old-school manual processes, replacing them with technology and automation that enables innovation to flourish.”   

Manual data entry process headaches  

Logistics providers must manage incredibly high volumes of disparate, non-digitized data, from scanned bills of lading to invoices, air waybills, and more.  

As with any labor-intensive task, there are risks for companies that continue to rely on manual data entry, which can often lead to rework, duplication, and even potential penalties for noncompliance.  

“Many argue that inaccurate data entry is one of the most expensive mistakes that logistics businesses make,” says Matthews. “That’s because there are so many chances for errors, especially when you’re facing language, legal and localization differences.”   

But it’s not just this considerable risk of error. According to Matthews, manual processes also leave providers lacking complete and reliable information, making it difficult to scale their operations. 

“It’s filing paperwork in different offices and then sifting through it to find the relevant data, that takes time and adds potential expenses. When you combine that with the high volume of transactions logistics providers are looking to execute, it creates several challenges which can be difficult to solve.”  

Manual data entry efficiency constraints  

While Scott McCorquodale, Head of Airline Connectivity at WiseTech Global, remembers the days of manually completing air waybills that were then transcribed into a computer system, he’s pleased they are generally in the past.  

“The air cargo industry has historically been very paper-based, which contributed to a lot of inefficiencies. This has all changed in recent years, with many airlines now firmly prioritizing their digital transformation projects.”  

According to McCorquodale, many airlines are pushing for forwarders to completely move away from manual processes and make electronic bookings for their air cargo capacity, either on the airline website, industry portals, or via a forwarder operating system, such as CargoWise.  

“One consideration for the forwarder not moving to eBookings is that some airlines will now apply an additional fee for manual bookings,” says McCorquodale. “But there’s also no denying that the existing booking process, which relies on traditional communication methods such as telephone calls and emails, is now so glaringly inefficient they simply must move to the electronic method, or risk being left behind.” 

Manual data entry productivity paralysis  

Ashley Skaanild, Regional Vice President of Logistics Data and Ocean Connectivity at WiseTech Global, agrees with these efficiency concerns and says that while technology can be immensely powerful, logistics providers should be wary of using too many disparate or worse – unsecure – software systems.  

He says that while some smaller companies have launched digital offerings that address specific customer needs, they often only focus on limited supply chain segments. As a result, the shipper, carrier or forwarder has to cobble together multiple solutions, which can be costly and involves considerable risk. 

For example, manually entering and transferring data between these different systems and operators is time-consuming, and the potential for error increases every time information is re-keyed. ​What’s more, maintaining job visibility across an organization becomes almost impossible, resulting in double handling of work, which can impact customer satisfaction.​ 

“Clearly, there are many opportunities for errors and cyber risk if you take a multi-system approach, versus say entering the data into one end-to-end logistics platform, that can communicate the information to multiple carriers seamlessly,” he argues.  

Technology powering the move to fast data entry  

There’s no denying that the data required to send goods from A to B is vast and complex. As a result, the industry has seen a rise in machine learning and natural language technologies designed to automate processes throughout the supply chain. 

According to Matthews, this technology, which is used in our deeply integrated global logistics platform, CargoWise, is helping companies make the move to a more automated, paperless, and productive environment. 

“What we’re doing is essentially removing a lot of the laborious and error-prone data entry processes, making them low-touch and much more efficient.  

“Importantly, once we have the data in the system, we also add relevancy and search models, alongside exception and process workflow management, to help our customers find and focus on what they need now, cutting down the noise,” he says.  

It’s these intelligent automations, along with cleansed, aggregated, and standardized data across providers, which McCorquodale believes can enable forwarders to react quickly and make timely decisions. 

“For air cargo specifically, this has been driven over the years across industry associations, particularly the International Air Transport Association. In fact, a number of logistics platforms, such as CargoWise, already support these digitization initiatives, and are being enhanced in line with newer projects, such as IATA’s ONE Record.” 

Reflecting on the past to drive transformation in the future  

There are always concerns about changing systems from the “way we’ve always done it.” The same is valid for data entry.  

However, manual data entry is both time-consuming and expensive. It demands a lot of resources to maintain high standards of accuracy. And for freight forwarders handling increasing volumes of documentation each day, errors can clearly get costly very quickly. 

“Automating data entry allows everything to become faster. And quality can also increase at the same time,” concludes Matthews.  

“They will reap the benefits of increased speed and accuracy that can happen 24 hours a day, seven days a week so that their staff can concentrate on higher-value tasks. But, in the end, it is also a more consistent approach that will set them up for real, long-term success.”  


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