A Guide to Automated Document Processing for Logistics

Document Processing for Logistics

Each year ocean freight forwarders exchange in excess of 12 billion documents that come in a variety of formats. Extracting key data from these documents has traditionally been a costly, labour-intensive manual process, that can often lead to inaccurate outputs when updating records within your TMS or ERP system. With AI-powered document automation software, logistics companies are now beginning to see the real benefits of automated document processing.

To find out more, download our free eBook on the future of document processing in logistics

Over 12 billion documents processed in ocean freight each year

What is Document Processing?

Document processing is the act of capturing and converting data from paper or digital documents to a spreadsheet or internal business system, such as a TMS or ERP like CargoWise. As a freight forwarder, every shipment managed has a number of documents that need processing – Master Bills, House Bills, Supplier Invoices, Packing Lists etc.

These documents usually get sent by email, downloaded and the details are manually extracted and keyed into an ERP or TMS by a data entry clerk.

One of the biggest issues with manual document processing for logistics companies, is, of course, the time it takes to do it – and the more time it takes to process invoices and documents, the more costs your company incurs and the longer your customers have to wait.

Manual Process
1. Receive Documents
2. Read and Understand Documents
3. Open Cargowise
4. Key in Data
5. Check Data

Document Processing Can be Automated for Logistics

AI powered document automation software allows logistics companies to transform document processing from a slow, manual process into a rapid, automatic one. Document automation software automatically extracts the data from these documents, understands it and syncs it with internal business systems, resulting in cost savings of more than 80%, while freeing up teams to focus on higher-value tasks.

Cost savings of 80%+

What is AI Powered Document Automation Software?

AI powered document automation software is technology that can classify structured or unstructured documents, group them in the correct category and format. The technology uses a strand of AI, called machine learning, and combines specialist machine learning models and Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to classify documents in the correct way.

Put simply, AI powered document automation software allows logistics companies to import different types of document into a business system like CargoWise, without having to do any of the manual admin usually associated with this process.

How Does Automated Document Processing Work?

Specialised AI-powered document automation software like Shipamax breaks document processing down into four key stages.

Document Classification:

Machine learning models interpret information and patterns on documents and then classify then by document types. For a logistics focused solution like Shipamax, this includes Bills of Lading, Commercial Invoices and Accounts Payable Invoices.

Data Extraction:

After classifying the document, Shipamax extracts data from the document. If it's image-based, a built-in OCR will be used to extract that data. After extracting the text, machine learning models understand the context of the document. This enables the previously unstructured data to be structured and mapped to our document schema, e.g. a Master Bill of Lading schema.

Data Exceptions:

If any extraction exceptions are picked up, these are managed through a logistic focused exception manager that tells users if a document could not be sent into their TMS and why. Users will be shown the areas of the document where changes need to made, and once updated, the document will be reprocessed and synced with a TMS. User feedback is an important part of the automation technology, helping it to learn and become more accurate.

Data Release:

Data is then pushed into your ERP or TMS, updating the relevant job or account record with information from documents received.

AI-powered document automation software is also built with a set of learning rules, enabling it to undergo training and continuously improve the more it is used. The user involvement in the exception management tool allows shippers to train their version of the Shipamax AI to meet their specific needs.

AI OCR Process
1. Shipamax Imports Unstructured DataEmail; API; Scan; Photo
2. Shipamax AI Captures DataReads fields 
Structures data
3. User Validates DataLogistics Interface, BoL, AP Invoice, 14 Second Exceptions, AI Accuracy improves with users corrections
4. Export DataCargowise

The Benefits of Document Automation Software for Shippers

AI powered document automation software has a number of benefits for logistics teams with heavy back office processes who want to streamline their operations. Some of the benefits of automated document processing include:

1. Reduced data entry costs

Automation can reduce manual data entry costs by more than 80%. Our research suggest that translates to a reduction from $3.33 per document down to just $0.60.

2. Quicker turnaround times

With an AI-powered document data capture solution that automates data entry, the time it takes to extract data from a document is reduced dramatically.

3. Better utilisation of staff time

With staff no longer focused on time consuming manual admin, they can switch their focus to high impact client facing activities.

4. Improved data accuracy

AI powered document automation solutions like Shipamax are trained on millions of logistics documents, helping to reduce human error and improve data accuracy.

Automation Trumps Manual Data Entry

Most freight forwarders are still using manual data entry to process logistics paperwork. In fact, according to a 2019 research report from Billentis, 90% of invoices globally are still processed manually. Specialist document automation software is more accurate and efficient, costs less and allows key operations staff to focus on valuable customer-facing activities, rather than costly, time-consuming manual document admin.

Automation is Superior to Traditional OCR

Traditional OCR software resolves some of the issues of manual data capture, but it also creates a number of new challenges for users. For every new document, your operations team must write a new set of rules and develop a new template, which takes a significant amount of time and costs a huge sum of money. It's no secret, the maintenance for traditional OCR is a significant downside of the technology. AI-powered document automation software like Shipamax eliminates the need for costly rules and templates and helps increase accuracy through specialist machine learning models that learn the more they are used.

See our detailed comparison of Shipamax vs Traditional OCR

Choosing a Document Automation Solution for Logistics

With an increasing demand for document automation solutions, there are a number of industry agnostic solutions available that can be setup and programmed to extract data from business documents and invoices. Shipping documents and workflows are more complex than most industries, which makes it much more challenging for generalist document automation solutions to meet the needs of logistics companies.

Shipamax offers the most powerful toolkit for automating data entry within logistics organisations. Our solution combines market leading data extraction technology with logistics-focused user interfaces, driven through a single API.

Download our free eBook on the future of document processing in logistics

With Shipamax, we’re seeing a higher level of accuracy for documents processed than we ever did with an OCR solution

Adrian Green, Head of Business Improvement, Seaway

Before Shipamax, invoice processing was carried out manually by one and a half members of staff, we’re now using less than one full time finance person and no operations agents.

Nicole Stenmetz, COO, Cargo Brokers

We wanted a technology partner that we could work with to help us develop a platform that would transform how we do business. With Shipamax, we have that partner.

Martin Hjelle, CTO, Western Bulk

In order to grow Singapore Marine rapidly, we require strong, reliable and top class IT applications. Selecting Shipamax was therefore straightforward.

Ardalan Sappino, Singapore Marine