Canadian freight operation offloads paperwork

Operations at the Toronto office of Kuehne + Nagel Ltd. was groaning under the weight of tons of paper work until the Swiss-based freight forwarding firm decided to take its chances with a fledgling document management software company.

The cargo company’s gamble with Applied Docs Inc., a start-up document automation firm in Ottawa, paid off in the near elimination of manual data entry processes and a significant boost in productivity levels.

By using Applied Docs’ Customs Invoice Processing Module software product, they were able “cut manual entry time by as much as four times and achieve saving of as much as 10 times over previous methods,” said Charles Edwards, project manager, Kuehne + Nagel.

Founded in 1890, Kuehne + Nagle has more than 46,000 employees in 830 facilities located in more than 100 countries. The global firm’s Toronto branch is among the busiest in North America, clearing as much as 30,000 shipments per month on average.

This mean’s office personnel have to process more than 30,000 files each month as every shipment has to be documented and reported to Customs Canada, according to Edwards. Freight forwarding is an “extremely paper-heavy” business, he said.

A cargo of automotive parts from Japan, for instance, can be accompanied by documentation containing thousands of lines of data. “It typically takes two to three days to manually type each entry.”

The diversity of invoices used by various companies add to the complexity of the task since office workers have to search for information in different areas and then enter them into the corresponding fields in the Kuehne + Nagel forms.

In 2005, the cargo company examined the viability of electronic data interchange (EDI) tools to ease its burdens. EDI is a set of standards used in systems and processes that allow the electronic emulation of and exchange of data between organizations.

Edwards said they tested several vendors but found their products to be either too expensive or incapable of the flexibility needed in managing disparate templates.

Applied Docs, which was new to the business then, however, was willing to tailor its solution to meet Keuhne + Nagel’s needs and was within budget.

Although, established only in 2005, Applied Docs partners with older companies, according to Keith Trafford, vice-president of operations.

The firm’s tools are built with data capture software from Datacap Inc.of Tarrytown, N.Y., which has been in business since 1988. Applied Docs also uses remote management software from Famatech Inc. which was founded in 1999.

Trafford himself, worked for 15 years in the document management field and peripherally in the shipping industry before setting up Applied Docs with several founders.

He said the Customs Invoice Processing Module enables users to capture information from paper and imaged sources, verify and manage it and deliver data in the desired format.

The tool incorporates optical character recognition, optical mark recognition, intelligent character recognition, data mining tools and workflow processes, he said.

Whereas Kuehne + Nagel employees use to re-type client information from client invoices into their own forms, they now can scan hardcopy or electronically transfer e-mailed portable document format (PDF) files and Excel files into the Applied Docs system.

The software “strips data from the client’s document, creates an EDI file, feeds it into the system which then map the data onto the Kuehne + Nagel form,” Trafford said.

“A process that use to take hours can now be accomplished in less than 10 minutes. There was an 80 per cent reduction in effort overall,” he added.

The application, Trafford said, also comes with a “re-usable rules” feature that enables the application of previously used rules logic on comparable documents.

“With this feature, we don’t need to re-invent the wheel each time we handle a new document,” said Edwards, who also found the software’s ease of use an added bonus.

The Applied Docs software is being used by Kuehn + Nagel for its invoicing process but the company is planning to use the tool as well in its accounts payable department.

Applied Doc is now servicing three other Canada-based logistics companies and recently entered a deal with an American firm.

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