New warehouse kiosk makes entire warehouse workflow contact-free for drivers

M.Folio has become a pillar of shippers’ social distancing strategy

Interactions between drivers and warehouse staff face a new kind of scrutiny amid the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. Before the concept of social distancing entered our daily lexicon, however, those interactions were notorious for their inefficient use of time and resources, especially regarding the submission, organization and retrieval of paperwork. These archaic and inefficient workflows were widely accepted as the cost of doing business within the industry.

MacGregor Partners, a technology solutions provider for the logistics industry, attacked these legacy pain points in 2017 with the creation of its flagship software-as-a-service (SaaS) offering, M.Folio. This electronic bill of lading (eBOL) and workflow automation software solution ingests all warehousing and transportation documentation generated and used at facilities and then ushers the documents through automated workflows. Workflows capture signatures and approvals, compare documents and provide notification to both internal and external parties, streamlining any traditional paper-based workflow. All this has an aim to end wasted labor costs and unnecessary face-to-face interactions prevalent in the industry.

Prior to the pandemic, customers gravitated toward M.Folio for the internal and external visibility it offered, as well as the labor savings from automated workflows. 

Due to a web-based framework, manufacturers often opened up access to internal staff in other departments, such as customer service, to keep interested parties up-to-date. They also provided access to their customers, vendors and transportation providers to ensure partners were self-sufficient when questions or needs arose. It was a move that eroded the need for calls into customer service or the warehouse asking for updates on a shipment or receipt — or to request a copy of a lost document or to get verification of the signer. Third-party logistics providers (3PLs) often connected M.Folio to their existing customer visibility portals or leveraged M.Folio to spearhead a portal effort, thanks to its simple application programming interface (API) integration capability.

Most organizations are simply unaware of the time their resources waste printing, collating, managing, filing, moving and storing, searching for documents and helping administer audits. Then there’s the cost of storing documents on-site in locations that should contain saleable products and the cost of off-site storage facilities, such as Iron Mountain. M.Folio customers reduce back-office labor by more than 25% through the movement away from paper-based workflows to digital workflows that eliminate non-value-add touches, resulting in six- and seven-figure savings across distribution networks.

Based on this visibility and labor reduction value proposition, M.Folio had ingested more than 5 million digital documents across 65 North American warehouses and distribution centers by the end of 2019 — all with web-enabled devices at the edge. Last fall, a customer requested that MacGregor Partners further improve the M.Folio solution by moving the transportation paperwork capture and administration process away from its security team and to the drivers themselves via a self-service kiosk. 

“This company asked us to create a self-check in experience akin to that of newer hotels, where you come in, provide some basic information and it spits out a key or gives you a barcode,” said Karl Kolada, director of business development at MacGregor Partners. “As COVID began to take hold, certainly in Asia, in Europe and then in North America, that project really started to grow legs in the social distancing arena. More and more of our existing customers said, ‘We know, based on some conference calls and newsletters, you’re working on something that can solve this problem as well. How close are you?’ That’s when we put it into hyperdrive.”

By early this year, the M.Folio Driver Kiosk was ready to greet drivers outside shipping and transportation offices and replace any human interaction. It promised an end-to-end, contact-free process for drivers, without requiring complex integrations or technologies. A driver simply arrives at the site and scans his or her driver’s license at the kiosk and the warehouse staff will know the driver has arrived. The driver receives a text message by phone or at the kiosk with an update on the status of the load, where to wait, when the load is ready and where to pick it up. The BOL can even be signed via text message and a physical copy, if required, can be printed at the kiosk or inside the shipping office. 

“You can look at it as either a stroke of genius, a stroke of luck or a little bit of both,” Kolada said of the timing of the kiosk’s release. “The kiosk has become a key pillar of customers’ social distancing plans to eliminate the need to pass paper back and forth — a huge worry for most logistics managers who need to limit the exposure of an outside party speaking to or physically interacting with their staff as much as possible.”

M.Folio has an edge on other signature capture tools because it focuses on the supply chain’s unique challenges and takes into consideration the end-to-end workflow among drivers, facility staff and paper. It also works around the concerns some drivers have about data security and being tracked. M.Folio secures only the information it needs and discards the rest. If a driver doesn’t want to touch the kiosk, M.Folio can text the check-in process or signature capture request to the driver’s phone without the driver having to download an app of any kind. If a driver doesn’t want to scan his or her driver’s license to create a barcode, M.Folio can work around that too. 

“Where some drivers start to get a little bit nervous is the check-in procedure,” said Roman Reynebeau, vice president of product development at MacGregor Partners. “Most facilities don’t take an image of the driver’s license, which has a lot of personal information, like address and date of birth. However, most organizations do require some basic information like your name and organization. Those are the types of information that we generally get from the barcode scan on the back of the driver’s license. The whole reason that we’re scanning that barcode is to make the drivers’ lives easier, because we don’t want them to fuss around with their mobile phone or with the kiosk to enter this information manually.”

MacGregor Partners focused on creating a simple workflow for M.Folio that is easy for anyone to use, according to Kolada and Reynebeau. Forty languages are also supported on the platform as the driver demographic is changing across North America and Europe. 

Once drivers have checked in, transportation office staff at the facility are able to view an interface showing which drivers have arrived and the loads they are waiting for. Imagine the paper, ink and storage saved by having drivers check in and sign the BOL without one human interaction or physical piece of paper.

M.Folio is a SaaS product with an annual subscription fee based on the number of processed documents, ranging from a driver’s license to a eBOL or packing list. Shippers can use their own tablet or purchase a kiosk from MacGregor Partners, which comes with a nationally certified support network of technicians. While there is a standard pricing structure, discounts are provided based on volume and options added to the kiosk, such as temperature sensors, hand sanitizer dispensers or custom branding. 

“This is really helping drivers effectively plan their days,” said Kolada. “For a lot of them, it’s about trying to get onto freeways and get out of big city traffic as soon as possible. There is a certain amount of respect that comes with letting them know we’re working on their paperwork. If it isn’t ready to go immediately, we let them know exactly where they are in the priority queue.”

Corrie White

Corrie is fascinated how the supply chain is simultaneously ubiquitous and invisible. She covers freight technology, cross-border freight and the effects of consumer behavior on the freight industry. Alongside writing about transportation, her poetry has been published widely in literary magazines. She holds degrees in English and Creative Writing from UNC Chapel Hill and UNC Greensboro.