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Driver, Dock, Stock
We need to stop building WMS software and digitize activities that feed the software.
The concept of “driver, dock, stock” has been a recurring topic of conversation during my calls with companies that want to improve their logistics operations. This concept combines receiving operations and inventory management — particularly within warehouses — in an effort to improve collaboration between truck drivers and employees who receive packages at the dock and add it to stock.
With better collaboration between them, companies can increase throughput in their warehouses, run schedules more efficiently, and decrease errors related to shipping and inventory.
The reason this topic arises so frequently is because it's an area of logistics that’s largely ignored yet largely responsible for a warehouse’s success. What’s often a greater focus are warehouse management systems (WMS’s), of which there are over 100 different vendors to choose from. Meanwhile, there are only a handful of options for making the trucker-warehouse handoff more efficient.
One of the greatest inefficiencies is the use of pen and paper. Too often, truck drivers will arrive with a piece of paper and have warehouse employees check the PO number. Warehouse employees then count and store packages one by one, sometimes using a DSLR camera to record damages. By the time the inventory count and pictures make it to the backroom for WMS entry, the data is two hours old.
In addition to being slow and prone to error, these manual processes can “detain” truck drivers and prevent them from reaching their next destination on time. For third-party logistics providers (3PLs) that offer less-than-truckload (LTL) services and run deliveries for multiple customers in a single trip, this is especially bad for business.
While full-truckload deliveries for a single customer might put less stress on truck drivers and warehouse employees to move quickly, there is still the issue of achieving real-time tracking and visibility which is key for maintaining strong partnerships between partners in the supply chain.
To address these challenges and improve the driver-warehouse handoff, warehouses graduate from using pen and paper to electronic proof of delivery (ePOD) systems. However, sometimes the hardware and software that power these systems are as outdated as the acronym itself. A modern alternative is smartphones that connect with cloud-based software to digitize the entire receiving and inventory management process.
With this solution, truck drivers can use their smartphones or tablets to capture electronic signatures at the dock and so much more. They can take photos of damaged packages at loading docks, refuse packages, and instantly transmit data and notifications to systems used by their supply chain partners.
For warehouse employees, this solution lets them verify received items against digital records, track inventory movement within the warehouse, and update the WMS in real time. This level of automation and transparency not only improves productivity but also minimizes the risk of stock discrepancies and misplaced inventory. Better planning, faster issue resolution, and improved customer service quickly follow.
Someone could make the case for RFIDs and telematics tracking to improve receiving at the dock, but it’s an expensive proposition and perhaps only valid for large warehouses, retail stores, and freight movers. Plus, you still need a smart way to figure out OSDs — overages, shortages, and damages — which smartphones are well-suited for.
In addition to existing smartphone logistics tech, I’m especially optimistic about the use of computer vision to help drivers and warehouse employees collaborate more efficiently, but there is still work to do there. For example, we still need to train computers about what a damaged package looks like and how to count certain objects for the purpose of inventory management.
New AI developments will expedite this but there’s still the requirement of trading outdated processes and hardware for modern solutions. Only with these can new technology like computer vision work.