Magazine Article | July 1, 2002

Content Management Convoy

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

A large freight carrier used to upload bills of lading and delivery receipts on a nightly basis. As the business grew, Web-based content management was the only way to meet its customers' needs.

Integrated Solutions, July 2002

Like many vertical markets today, the freight and shipping business is information intensive. Besides the detailed driving logs that drivers are responsible for, they also have to handle bills of lading, customer receipts, application sheets, and a myriad of safety data sheets. Carriers require prompt delivery of shipping documents from drivers so that distribution centers can turnaround orders more quickly.

Before fulfillment can take place, however, all shipping documents must be processed at the distribution center. Only after this process is complete can shipments be removed from trucks, grouped for delivery to neighboring locations, and reloaded for the final destination.

Document Delays Slow Traffic
With average shipments of 20,000 per day, R&L Carriers (Wilmington, OH) faced the challenge of timely processing its bills of lading, which serve as the official "pick up" record. The bill of lading document is a contract between the customer and the carrier, detailing the number of items that are to be shipped, the weight of the items, special delivery instructions, hazardous material information, and details about the shipper, the recipient, and the payer. Under R&L's old system, bills of lading were written or printed out by the customer and handed to the truck driver when the freight was picked up. Since the bills of lading arrived with the trucks, shipping information could not be processed until the truck actually arrived at a terminal. The delays in processing orders resulted in overtime dues in the warehouse, late loading of products with trucks, and the inability to process shipments effectively once they arrived at distribution centers.

"We wanted to be able to do remote scanning and send images of the bills of lading and other documents immediately to our terminals for order processing," recalls Mark Vance, MDT (mobile data terminal) project manager for R&L. "By capturing data and updating our database in real time, we would be able to give our warehouse workers a jump on getting orders ready to go before the driver arrived at the loading dock."

For IT Expertise: Outsource
After surveying the company's needs and requirements, R&L found an answer in a suite of solution offerings through (Go Save on Freight) (Dayton, OH), a specialized ASP (application service provider) for the freight industry. implemented a two-part solution that comprised a mobile data capture solution from Sierra Wireless (Richmond, BC) and a Web-based document management solution from ActionPoint, Inc. (San Jose, CA).

The MOBILEi is a portable document capture system that includes a scanner, computer, and wireless access from the Sierra Wireless AirCard 510, a wireless network card that connects users to corporate applications without the need for a wireless phone or land-line connection. Using the Sprint PCS network, the MOBILEi transmits images of the bills of lading or other shipping documents to R&L's centralized database via the server, which is an XML-based portal. From there, ActionPoint's InputAccel coordinates the incoming data by ensuring its integrity and converting the data into the proper formats used by the company's back-end systems. Once the information is delivered to the appropriate back-end system, it is processed immediately to create an "Unloading Manifest," which is sent to the appropriate terminal to begin pulling freight for the drivers.

This integrated solution allows R&L to bill shipments the same day as opposed to the old paper system that took at least a week to generate a bill. The system also posts the information on the R&L Carrier Web site minutes from scan time, allowing customers to track their shipments from start to finish.

The real payoff for R&L is that its mobile data capture and document management solution takes care of most of the network infrastructure and document image processing. The system also complements its existing application so the company can still maintain its existing internal shipping and billing software. The main difference now is that shipping documents are now received electronically and can be analyzed before the trucks carrying the freight arrive at the terminal. This solution gives R&L the opportunity to determine the contents of each truck and how the freight should be sorted for shipping - before the truck arrives at the distribution center. The result is a system that enables its warehouse workers to inventory and process orders before loading the trucks, saving valuable time and resources.

"Since we've implemented the solution, we are capturing nearly 80,000 images per day through our portal," says Vance. "And, we've hardly had to add to our warehouse or clerical staff to keep up with the increase in data coming in and shipments going out."

In the near future, R&L Carriers plans to add neural networking to its ActionPoint document imaging solution, which will enable it to scan and perform key from image forms processing on unstructured forms. This new feature is expected to eliminate 70% of its manual data entry.