How reducing paperwork can improve data exchange in maritime industry?

This article will show you some basics of electronic Bill of Lading e(BOL), IoT, and mobile data capture. Let’s take an in-depth look at areas where reducing paperwork can improve data exchange in the maritime industry?

Old school paperwork and other traditional ways

The reasons to use paper have dwindled fast as the need to use valuable and secured data exchange grows in the maritime industry. Digital transformation is now available almost anywhere; it is faster than we could have imagined 20 years ago. Before we dig into digital solutions, let’s see traditional paperwork. Proper tracking of vessels and their cargo workflow traditionally can be at least exhaustive. The first fundamental question is how do you track your fleet? All you can have is a phone call with the vessel unit and its captain. You get an expert opinion from the operator and trust this word of mouth as a confirmation.

The next question is, how do you mark this unit’s position without a data visualization on maps? At Setapp, we once got a project like this and learned that these positions were matched manually on a magnetic board.  As a consequence of this, when COVID occurred, this suddenly became a huge problem. The solution we proposed is written here.

Furthermore, what about the office workflow? What about complex contracts and all document workflow? All these paper imprints, dozen emails, excel sheets, shared text docs, and certificates. Documents get lost and sent by e-mail, and copies are made in the office’s printers. Sometimes they are left at desks unsupervised. 

When you think about all of this, awareness of the supply-chains industry paperwork problem steps in. What can you do about it?

By automating processes, we can overhaul the inefficiencies that the paper introduced. By creating a single source of truth that is highly transparent, we can reallocate the large sums of money wasted each year on fixing errors to more valuable endeavors.

Bill of lading (BOL) – paper or digital data exchange?

The most common pieces of data that supply chain companies work with are:

  • the shipping and receiving times,
  • real-time sale data, passing down information on a given product to employers and customers,
  • stock data and inventory levels,
  • and proof of delivery. 

The BOL ensures that goods can clear customs, prove ownership, and offer details on the quantity and type of the commodity. Introducing a digitalized BOL will streamline shipping, warehouse management, and speed delivery. It is probably the most essential document in the supply-chain industry. The BOL’s information covers the most important critical details necessary for effective supply-chain management.

 bill of lading

An electronic bill of lading (or eBOL)

It is the legal and functional equivalent of a paper bill of lading. The electronic bill of lading must digitize the core functions of a paper bill of lading, namely its legal acceptance as a receipt, as evidence of or containing the contract of carriage, and as a document of title. Source: There are many different types of BOLs. Introducing this digital solution is a great way to streamline the process with all of them.

Even more noteworthy is that eBOL eliminates the time-consuming process involved with filling out the paper, not to mention the incredible savings and effectiveness that can be introduced by removing unfortunate occurrences such as losing documents that hinder trade. Moreover, the time wasted on searching for the exceptionally detailed data you need?

Having one source of information, one system with all the attachments uploaded in one place, under one vessel or pool partner, is a blast. That is the way to adequately cover transparent data exchange.

Crucial for the success of digital BOL solutions is industry-wide adoption. These digital systems are only as strong as the number of users they possess. Suppose only a few companies decide to take the digital dive. In that case, it may have a negligible impact on the industry. Above all, companies that stubbornly choose to do things manually will halt progress.

 Transparent data exchange with proper system

What else can we improve to make data flow better and easier? How to improve communication with, for example, vessel operators and employees? Let’s think for a while that the average human being holds more computing power in the palm of their hand than the crew of the Apollo 11 had when they made their faithful journey into space. With such potential, it would be a waste to leave it dormant. 

As the adage goes, “knowledge is power.” It is no different in the supply chain industry. Possessing superior data sets permits companies to make better decisions, predict where roadblocks may occur, and react quickly when any sign of trouble arises. You have your employees with their mobile phones. All you need is the proper management system.

Curious about some examples? At one of the projects at Setapp, we worked on systems where users can upload documents and see instant feedback on specific data. This way, it is more likely to catch things that might lead to huge losses – for example, expiring certificates or other information that might lead to the vessel not getting into port successfully. What is crucial is instant and fast information exchange between office and vessel employees.


Mobile Data Capture – user friendly data exchange

Firstly, you can store the information by devices named under the umbrella term: “Internet of Things” (IoT).  Hyland reports that by 2023, 1.88 billion workers will be mobile, making up 43.3 percent of the global workforce. How can you use it? For instance, to collect data from employees at vessels, ports, and warehouses to valuable information for legal or auditing services. They do have their phones with them at these units. Even more impressive is that the devices that collect contain valuable data don’t have to be state-of-the-art computers or smartphones. Above all, various gadgets and appliances can collect and archive information. Data doesn’t need to be complex to prove valuable to decision-makers. 

Of course, going paperless is the only way to make sense of these large data blocks. It would be insanity to allow a human worker to manually go through these data sets. This is where the next piece of the puzzle falls into place as far as mobile data capture technology goes. To make sense of the wealth of data IoT devices harvest, complex computer algorithms must make sense of the happenings.

mobile data capture
mobile data capture


Additionally, one crucial big piece of data in the maritime industry is keeping track of all fleet units, ships, barges, and cargo. At this stage of technology, telematics systems are the solution worth exploring. There are a dozen challenges here, like covering blind spots where internet connection is low or nonexistent, and no GPS can be used. Many times units are waiting longer in ports or barges alongside the rivers.

Additionally, due to the fickleness of internet connectivity in many sea areas, it is worth allowing offline data storage. This will guarantee that valuable data entitled earlier doesn’t disappear if the internet connection is lost suddenly.

Finally, data gathered and analyzed by telematics systems help transport companies utilize their resources more efficiently. Furthermore, this saves money, reduces CO2 emissions, increases safety, and makes drivers’ work more accessible. 

 More on telematics? Go for this post.

Better workflow, better data exchange due to less paperwork:

  • Let me express that trust is a critical ingredient of business. The transparency of data that digital supply-chain solutions offer is ideal for facilitating trust between numerous entities. For example, companies can monitor each traded component and how it changes hands.
  • Moreover, this is an excellent opportunity to focus on the ethical and sustainable procurement of goods. Companies can keep a close eye on whether raw goods are from reputable sources, a practical implementation of corporate social responsibility. Transparent data access can also help build bonds between companies as partners can look into your inventory in real-time and plan company strategies accordingly.
  • One of the significant burdens on port warehouses is storing the inventory. The long-term storage of stock is responsible for considerable financial losses. Additionally, this waste of capital causes poor planning and a lack of proper recognition of trends in consumer demand.
  • All things considered, paper-based solutions will never allow such detailed analysis to the surface, so managers can analyze them before it is too late. The real-time tracking of rates allows for smarter management. As a result, costs are not sinking into holding onto goods. Not to mention fewer trees wasted. 


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