Humans are estimated to have first ventured out across the sea roughly 53,000 years ago, and since that first tentative paddle hit the water, we’ve progressed to develop one of the most complex and vital industries for human society to ever be created. The question, however, is how impactful is the move towards paperless operations having on a decades-old industry, and what does it mean for the future of shipping?
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- Introduction: How Software Made Waves in Shipping
- The Paper Problem
- Why Are Shipping Documents Still Primarily Paper-Based?
- The Risks of Sticking With Paper-Based Document Management Systems
- The Software Solution
- What Does it Mean for the Future of Shipping?
Introduction: How Software Made Waves in Shipping
Before we get into the specifics of document management software, it’s important to recognize how much of an impact software as a whole has had on the shipping industry already. For example, in 2019 alone, SEDNA’s intelligent communication system—a software born from and for the shipping industry—saw a boom of sales by 605% over the previous year. This steep rise in shipping companies opting to adopt SEDNA in the name of digital transformation is a clear indicator that maritime management is steadily climbing away from its manual roots.
Of course, the key phrase is steadily climbing. While the shipping industry might well be setting a course for a complete digital revolution, it’s by no means reached those shores just yet, and this is never more clear than when considering document management. As you’ll see from our customer stories, many giants of shipping have switched to SEDNA and never looked back, but for every shipping company using SEDNA, or software in general, there’s plenty of others still stuck with more cumbersome methods.
The Paper Problem
Ask anyone who’s worked within the shipping industry and they’ll tell you that even now, on the cusp of 2022, it’s an industry that’s surprisingly wedded to paper. While emails are, of course, sent and PDFs generated, a shocking amount of these digital documents are still printed. Moreover, in some companies, the fax machine is still enjoying what it thinks is its heyday, meaning that for every step forward the industry takes there’s still plenty of steps backward.
Why Are Shipping Documents Still Primarily Paper-Based?
One of the core reasons for paper-based document management systems within shipping, as with most logistics companies, is that the workflows associated with them are rarely linear and often subject to change. As such, attempting to provide document management systems that can pivot with the needs of such complex workflows can often prove to be too much, and understandably companies opt for more traditional and user-friendly methods to get the job done.
The second key component is the lack of uptake for digital signatures. For those in the transportation and logistics business, the need to sign bills of lading is a vital aspect of the invoicing process, and without digital signatures being commonplace, all document management software tends to become redundant.
The Risks of Sticking With Paper-Based Document Management Systems
The risks and downsides associated with having a document management system that is purely paper-based are numerous and can apply to many industries beyond shipping. These include:
- Inaccuracies and missed information that cause financial losses
- Security breaches
- Increased cost and a larger carbon footprint
- Workflows that are less streamlined and efficient creating missed opportunities
- No room for mobile document management allowing problems to go unaddressed got too long or opportunities to be missed
Paper-based management of shipping documents is still very much a part of life for many maritime businesses, and unfortunately, it’s a pattern that’s rife with issues. Heavily related to this overreliance on physical copies is the misuse of traditional email platforms, all of which are day-to-day challenges that are pushing the transportation industry, as a whole, gently towards digital workflows.
The Software Solution
With the pitfalls of a paper-based document management system clear, the simple solution is, of course, software. It’s something SEDNA feels strongly about after years crafting software solutions perfectly suited to large enterprises like the shipping industry.
Of course, physical paper copies are just one part of the problem. As mentioned, it’s still notoriously common in the shipping industry to be in the habit of living in your inbox and sharing documents via email. With SEDNA, not only can you tackle the gargantuan issue of email with its threads, duplications, and sheer volume—but also solve your biggest document management problems with Flexdocs too.
“A frequent use case is when beginning a new voyage, charterers need to provide ports and terminals with the latest specs and safety certifications to ensure the vessel will allow for loading and unloading of the cargo.
Using Flexdocs, the charterer will be able to:
- Tag a safety certification document directly from their email with the appropriate vessel
- Set an optional expiration date for the document
- Easily share the safety certification as a link or document through email to all parties (internal or external), who require access to the latest version of the safety certification”
SEDNA, Flexdocs, 2020
Flexdocs provides not only context for documents, but also ensures you’re working with the latest version of a document, greatly reducing the potential for costly errors and ensuring you and your team remain up to speed with the latest fixtures.
As well as Flexdocs, solutions-led features for improved workflows and intelligent automation, SEDNA also has integrations that can streamline operational efficiency in shipping even further. For example, if you’re looking to share a bill of lading for signature with Flexdocs, you can use our integration with Komgo to facilitate getting that document signed.
What Does Document Management Software Mean for the Future of Shipping?
With big names like Norden, Glencore, and Bunge to name a few, pivoting towards software solutions, the landscape of the shipping industry of the future will be undeniably digital. The net gain of fewer mistakes (often, severely expensive mistakes for shipping professionals) combined with a greater capacity to seize fixture opportunities means that the industry will become increasingly software-reliant. In terms of document management software specifically, it might just be the starting point of much of this transformation. Already, electronic bills of lading (eB/Ls) are becoming more commonplace, and it’s very likely too that the pandemic has both amplified and sped up this shift, highlighting the growing need for digital document management.
Undoubtedly the future of the shipping industry will be transformed by increasingly intelligent document management systems and wider software use cases in general, supporting a decades-old industry in an increasingly demanding world.