Follow the paper trail to keep the supply chain moving

Every procurement manager working across international borders knows the wheels moving their physical goods are oiled with a steady flow of documents. But many are still using archaic paper trails that can cause delays and problems when they fail.

Documents that keep the global trade supply chain moving arrive in many formats but are often kept in a multitude of places - different email inboxes in the better cases; filing cabinets, cardboard folders and sticky notes in the worst.

Worse still, documents can be lost or misplaced, producing bottlenecks in the work flow, with expensive knock-on consequences, downtime and delayed order delivery. Securing a complete, accurate and timely picture of the movement of goods within a supply chain is sometimes impossible and questions are now being asked whether sufficient progress has been made in safeguarding the flow of information.

Most organisations whose supply chains are still labouring along outdated paper trails have long ago automated other systems. Now forward-thinking procurement managers are increasingly taking the view their supply chains are strategic assets, critical to profitable growth, and are investing appropriately.

They want information to flow as quickly as the physical items in a warehouse or distribution centre. In fact digital technology now enables vital information to be ahead, eliminating human error and ensuring accuracy and compliance.

Leading supply chain companies are now putting their focus on enterprise content management (ECM) platforms. With ECM in place, organisations extend the benefits of automation beyond their physical shop floors, simplifying the way they manage trade processes and increasing productivity.

ECM automatically captures all incoming documents, no matter where in the international supply chain they originate or what format they arrive in, and stores them digitally. It automatically extracts meaningful data from the information and inserts that data into an organisation’s existing legacy applications, such as global trade management or transportation management systems.

ECM will make all the data instantly available in those systems. And by creating one, central, electronic location, documents become accessible and easily searchable to operations staff across the globe. Different users can view the same documents at the same time, and since ECM updates data as documents come in, staff are always working with the most up-to-date information available.

Of course, ECM can do more than that. But essentially, it provides the process visibility and control a modern global trade organisation needs. No more incomplete supporting documents, inaccurate data entry, missed deadlines or improper customs filings. Instead, managers control operational processes and the flow of supporting trade documents.

David Jones is cloud solution marketing manager of Hyland, creator of OnBase

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