Robotic process automation in the logistics industry

Here are three of the most important ways in which RPA can transform the lives of logistics professionals.
24 August 2018

There’s a lot of processes in the logistics industry that RPA can help with. Source: Shutterstock

When you think of logistics, large shipping vessels, big trucks, and gigantic containers come to mind.

The industry is worth trillions of dollars and will continue to grow exponentially with e-commerce gaining more traction every day. According to analysts, by 2023, the global logistics market will be worth US$15.5 trillion and handle 92.1 billion tonnes of goods.

However, there are several bottlenecks that can be optimized in order to make the industry more reliable and to provide customers with a more personalized service. Robotic process automation (RPA) is one of the tools that can help drive this optimization.

RPA, by definition, is the use of software-based bots to automate repetitive tasks. It’s easy to implement and build, and affordable to deploy — and can make a monumental difference to executives in various functions.

Here are three of the most important ways in which RPA can transform the lives of logistics professionals:

# 1 | Internal process management

Logistics companies have a lot of internal documentation, most of which can be automated.

In fact, automation in this segment of the industry is long overdue, not only because it will help make the workforce more efficient but also because it will reduce most of the human errors that creep in while copying over forms and data from one department to another.

Let’s put things into perspective with an example:

Sales teams sell space on shipping containers over the phone based on the weight and volume of a consignment. Now, once they’ve made the sale, details need to be passed on to the pricing team to provide an estimate.

Once the estimate has been approved by the client, other documents need to be generated to ensure that the right weight and volume of the consignment is loaded onto the ship — and differences, if any, are accounted for appropriately and charged accordingly.

Next, the items might need to be inspected to process the customs clearance documents at the origin and the destination ports, insured, invoiced, and so on. At every stage, much of the information is repetitive, and entering by hand can cause a lot of errors to creep in.

# 2 | Customer communications

When goods are being ‘processed’ by a logistics company, they go through various stages and layers within the organization and at the port.

Physically, the goods are packed, transported to the port, received, checked, loaded into containers, containers are then loaded onto the ship, and finally, the ship leaves the port as per a certain schedule.

It then arrives at the destination, the container is unloaded, the goods are offloaded and inspected, a clearing and forwarding agent claims them, pays applicable duties, loads them onto a truck, pays applicable tolls and road taxes, and finally delivers them to a warehouse.

From the warehouse, again, it might be picked up by the exporter or sender or by the buyer or an agent representing either of them.

At every stage, there’s documentation — and the customer needs to be informed. From the description itself, it’s apparent that there’s a significant role that RPAs can play in this arena.

# 3 | Reporting and compliance

While we just discussed the stages of sending a certain consignment overseas, what we ignore was the amount of legal and statutory paperwork that is involved in each step.

There are several declarations that businesses need to file in order to make — not only for themselves but also for their client (and for the receiving party, if the two are not the same).

In cases where a bank is involved (which is often the case in international trade), the reporting and compliance requirements get even more complicated and cause several headaches for logistics professionals. The sheer volume of data they need to process and the number of deals they need to keep track of can be cumbersome.

It’s why deploying an RPA based solution can provide serious relief, and also reduce compliance risks and associated penalties for the logistics company.