No one expected the 2020 that greeted us. For those of us in supply chain, the year’s events have shattered the long-standing ideal of a lean and just-in-time supply chain. 2020 taught us the hard lesson that from time to time, supply chains will be disrupted en masse, and in these moments, agility trumps all other value drivers. These disruptive moments mint new winners and losers as firms that are prepared capture market share at the expense of the less prepared.
The great lesson that comes out of this year is the importance of a truly digital supply chain as the basis of an agile and resilient supply chain. Accelerating a long trend, the pandemic has bifurcated companies into the digital haves and have-nots — companies prepared and capable of executing the rapid pivots necessary to survive and thrive juxtaposed with those reliant on static, manual and often archaic processes.
One such musty corner of the supply chain that rose to prominence in 2020 is the bill of lading (BOL). This undervalued and overlooked document has a critical function in the supply chain, transferring ownership and transforming inventory at rest to inventory in motion. The BOL process has remained unchanged at many firms for decades, reliant on manual handoff of physical documents and wet-ink signatures — inefficient, static and painfully ill-suited for the pandemic’s disruption.
BOL’s digital twin, the electronic bill of lading (eBOL), has been around for over a decade in various capacities, yet many in the industry were caught flat-footed by the pandemic. With a digital solution available for so long, why were so many firms still operating manually? The answer is in the historic scope of eBOL solutions, which misses the broader opportunity for savings and return.
When most supply chain practitioners think of eBOL, they focus on the outputs — electronic signature capture and a digital bill of lading. “This myopic, output-focused thinking is the problem with industry adoption,” said Jason Ziegler, president and CEO of MacGregor Partners. “To create tangible value for an organization, an eBOL solution must be larger in scope. At a minimum, create a digital and contactless journey for a driver throughout their entire journey at a facility, spanning the moment they arrive to the moment they leave — automated, efficient and technology agnostic. This scope should be table stakes for any viable eBOL solution. Beyond that, it is the gateway for an organization to explore a more holistically digital and efficient warehouse, yard and driver interaction.”
The good news is that the solutions exist today to solve this problem and stretch the solution much further. M.Folio, MacGregor Partners’ eBOL SaaS offering, is a prominent example. M.Folio focuses heavily on creating a homogenous process and workflow for facilities and drivers in the highly fragmented transportation space. This allows an organization to reap all the benefits of an eBOL solution while meeting their carriers, vendors and partners where they are in their digital journey.
“We create an easy on-ramp to a fully digital future through our Driver Kiosk,” said Ziegler. MacGregor’s self-service driver kiosk has the ability to ingest and digitize inbound load documentation as well as the ability to print physical outbound paperwork should a driver prefer a hard copy. When an organization and its partners are ready to move to a fully digital environment without paper, the workflow can be emulated exclusively on a driver’s mobile phone. This flexibility has proven critical for firms that don’t control their own fleets, as many carriers and trading partners are not ready for digital-only BOLs.
A key tenet to an eBOL solution’s adoption and success, as Ziegler describes it, is to eliminate the need for another application on a driver’s phone. “The transportation industry doesn’t need another driver app. We haven’t interacted with a single prospect or customer that told us their facilities revel at the thought of administering the download, training and usage of an app for every driver and carrier combination that enters their facility. They want a simple solution that works no matter who shows up to move the freight, regardless of their technology savvy.”
As organizations implement comprehensive eBOL solutions, they begin to unlock additional opportunities. “Our customers appreciate the ability to stretch their value through our eBOL solution. We allow them to do things like go guardless at the gate, replacing security guards with kiosks and cameras, relieving facilities of significant contractor spend,” states Ziegler. This opportunity is often a compelling financial justification on its own.
Beyond this use case, Ziegler says that other organizations lean into an eBOL solution’s unique position in the supply chain, bridging the gap between inventory in motion and inventory at rest. “We have a robust API and data management layer that allows us to seamlessly communicate with a variety of adjacent systems. Systems like WMS, TMS, YMS, ERP, weight scales, yard gates, data lakes and anywhere else our customers need to push real-time data and visibility throughout their enterprise,” states Ziegler. “The ability to step beyond the shackles of traditional EDI and into a flexible, agile and low-code or no-code approach to share data between traditionally siloed systems opens numerous doors of significant value,” Ziegler adds.
At MacGregor Partners, eBOL is viewed as a continuum. “We’re not asking supply chains to jump from paper to fully digital overnight,” said Ziegler. “We work in warehouses, we work with transporters and we understand the real-world constraints that our customers experience. What we’ve created is a digitization path, where each step is achievable in a real-world context, delivers meaningful ROI and opens the door to broader value plays.
“We hope the industry joins us in this vision, because eBOL adoption is key to resilience. Whether the next event is driverless trucks, a carbon tax that mandates more granular transport data or a new pandemic forcing physical separation of drivers and staff,” Ziegler continues, “there is value in being ready and there is value in acting now. We believe an agile and scalable eBOL solution is a key driver of supply chain resilience, providing value now and into the future.”
M.Folio is a SaaS product with an annual subscription fee based on the number of processed documents. Facilities have the choice of using their own tablet/device or a kiosk from MacGregor Partners through their Kiosk as a Service (Kaas) model. For more information, visit https://macgregorpartners.com/m-folio/.