There is a widening gap in the logistics industry — between organizations that have undergone a digital transformation and those that have not.
It’s not a secret that the freight technology revolution has disrupted the logistics industry, and investors are betting their money it will continue. Freight technology venture capital investment deals soared from $11.7 billion in 2016 to an astounding $41.3 billion in 2021, according to numbers reported by Pitchbook. The result of this influx of capital is technological innovations that have redefined the meaning of optimized and resilient supply chains.
Organizations may have adopted technology that was cutting-edge years ago but is quickly becoming outdated. Critical data continues to remain siloed. Manual entry is very much still a part of life for many companies with bills of lading and driver qualification paperwork sitting in email inboxes or stacked on desks, all waiting to be manually entered into a TMS or ERP. This manual work costs hours they don’t have and opens the possibility of human error, which can lead to even more of a time sink.
There are modern technology innovations that can help solve this. Robotic process automation (RPA) and intelligent automation (IA) streamline back-office operations, enabling organizations to resolve critical challenges and focus on high-value business tasks instead of monotonous low-level functions. RPA bridges the efficiency gap, giving companies the tools to increase productivity, reduce expenses and get business done faster. IA builds onto this, harnessing the power of advanced artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) technologies to make more complex decisions and enhance efficiency.
Digital transformation is not just about technology adoption
Digital transformation is not necessarily just a complete overhaul of a company’s technology stack. According to Emtec Digital, “Digital transformation involves optimizing key business processes and leveraging advanced digital technologies to modernize and transform how you do business and engage with your customers.”
Speed and visibility mean everything to supply chain stakeholders. To meet customer expectations and build trust, logistics companies must optimize internal processes to respond quickly and accurately. This means real-time freight tracking, load-rate monitoring, paperless bills of lading and overall process automation to improve performance.
“Digitalization is a critical success imperative for logistics companies to meet rising cost pressures, ensure time savings, optimize internal as well as external operations, deliver ‘above satisfactory’ customer service and stay relevant in a highly competitive marketplace,” said Sreenivas Vemulapalli, associate vice president at Emtec Digital.
Automation is a key element in the path forward to accelerating this digitalization.
What is RPA?
RPA allows for the automation of multistep, rule-based business processes and tasks. As opposed to traditional automation, which relies on application programming interfaces (APIs) and back-end programming, RPA uses software bots to optimize processes at the front-end-user level. Like robots performing repetitive tasks along assembly lines and warehouse environments, software bots can be used in offices to perform routine administrative tasks that previously required human effort. This is quite useful across the supply chain to complete low-level functions such as auto-tracking loads, entering data from uniform documents into a TMS, or for overall inventory management for example.
Still wondering what routine processes this technology can be used for?
According to Emtec Digital, the top use cases for RPA for 3PLs are:
- Carrier onboarding & compliance.
- Appointment scheduling.
- Contracts & quoting process.
- Freight management.
- Track and trace.
- Document management.
- ERP/CRM integration.
RPA enables scalable process automation across a wide range of use cases but stacking it with advanced intelligence can boost business productivity.
How IA complements RPA
In an industry as rapidly changing as logistics, process automation alone won’t drive digital transformation. It must be supported by intelligence. RPA infused with AI — also known as intelligent automation — empowers organizations to accelerate digital transformation.
While RPA lacks cognitive abilities and is limited to a predefined set of rules, IA goes beyond this to interpret information and make more complex decisions that are typically made by humans. This allows it to mimic human behavior at rapid speeds to complete tasks that require intuitive and creative thinking like interpreting a handwritten image such as a bill of lading and extracting key data or automating customer-facing tasks.
The best part is, according to Emtec Digital, IA doesn’t require a major overhaul of current infrastructure, integration with existing systems, or high technical knowledge. IA, when implemented with RPA, can improve the overall productivity of considerably more complex tasks than RPA can alone. It is a key enabler for organizations looking to transform end-to-end automation, grow process and operational efficiency, drive strategic decision-making, elevate customer experiences and create a culture of business excellence.
Data or process? Where to start?
It’s evident that intelligent automation can help make enterprise processes smarter, adaptive and more resilient. Now the most important question is: do you begin with optimizing the process or operationalizing the data that powers the process? What will deliver maximum value? A process-driven or a data-driven approach?
The answer lies in the outcome you are trying to achieve. If enhancing operational efficiency is your main automation goal, then you need to take a process-driven approach, where a strong automation engine powered by data intelligence can help improve accuracy and speed while reducing errors and issues in the process. On the other hand, a data-driven approach works best when there is a need to analyze market and customer feedback to design/improve processes, so they deliver your desired outcomes. To achieve measurable business value through enterprise automation initiatives, it is necessary to harmonize processes and data. Process automation drives higher efficiencies while data facilitates superior decision-making.
What RPA + IA + analytics can do for your logistics business
Blending RPA and IA can revolutionize process automation in the transportation and logistics industry, allowing for streamlining core processes that traditionally require hours of human attention. This facilitates quick process completion and the agility to adapt to changing customer needs and expectations.
Data analytics is arguably the linchpin for business growth. Without having visibility across all functions of a business, it is impossible to know what is working and what needs to be improved. Data analytics, paired with RPA and IA, create crucial visibility into a company’s supply chains throughout the entire freight lifecycle.
Ultimately, strong data visibility allows companies to implement RPA and IA at critical points in their business processes. This leads to business value growth, improved efficiency, increased workforce productivity, lower operating costs and higher returns. It makes work easier, frees up time and allows humans to focus on what they do best — looking at the big picture.
Accelerate your digital transformation with Emtec Digital
It can be quite daunting to implement the tools and technologies required for enterprise process automation. That’s where Emtec Digital’s adaptive digital transformation comes in.
Emtec Digital is an IT strategy and consulting company that supports logistics companies on their digital transformation journey by providing technology advisory, implementation and support services. Emtec Digital helps logistics firms navigate the overwhelming task of implementing and integrating RPA and IA technologies. They analyze clients’ existing technology landscape, identify potential candidates for process automation and help successfully design and implement their automation strategy. This includes data. Emtec Digital’s data engineering and analytics expertise helps organizations strengthen their enterprise data strategy to gain impactful insights.
“From building the data strategy roadmap, technology evaluation and proof of concept to customizing and implementing advanced platforms, we enable clients to successfully navigate each stage of their data journey,” Vemulapalli said.
Emtec Digital’s guidance helps logistics clients grow resiliency and control over their operations in an industry known for its uncontrollable nature. This allows logistics companies to ultimately strengthen their customer relationships and solidify their place in the market.