Contactless Delivery: Because Paperless Is No Longer Enough

Among other things, supply chain digital transformation is about eliminating waste from the value chain. This includes eliminating manual and paper-based business processes, which remains prevalent in many logistics and delivery operations. Processing paper documents is time consuming and labor intensive; it also contributes to the data quality problem that continues to plague many companies. 

Exchanging paper documents is also becoming a problem in the battle against COVID-19. Here’s an example from the Wall Street Journal last week:

To reduce the risk of infection, Ms. Parker [who operates a family farm] is looking to replace the triplicate forms she uses to record freight shipments with digital bills of lading.

“You are still handing them [drivers] paper bills, and they are signing them and exchanging them,” Ms. Parker said. “There’s a lot of contact you could probably avoid.”

The first phase of eliminating paper from delivery processes was the adoption of mobile devices and “sign on glass” proof of delivery (POD) applications. Instead of signing on a piece of paper, a customer signs on the “glass” screen of a mobile device to confirm delivery. This eliminated much of the waste and inefficiency associated with paper documents. However, the battle against COVID-19 and social distancing requirements are creating new challenges for sign on glass applications. As Chris Jones from Descartes shared in a recent Talking Logistics episode:

“Delivery drivers are now on the frontlines of this crisis. There had been a push for proof of delivery and sign on glass, but that requires drivers to give a device to the recipient and take it back. Now drivers are being told to leave the package at the delivery site and take a picture of it. You can use GPS technology to verify the location. In general, we are seeing people go away from paper-based processes. We are also seeing companies go away from having drivers go into a pickup or delivery facility to announce that they’ve arrived. They can use geo-fencing and electronic notifications instead.”

In short, paperless pickup and delivery processes are not enough; the new goal is contactless.

“In response to COVID-19, our delivery partners are offering no-contact delivery in your area,” states Apple on its website. “Drivers may ask for verbal confirmation of receipt from a safe distance to satisfy the signature requirement.”

Last month, BigChange, a mobile workforce technology company, announced the release of a COVID-19 No Touch signature capture app. Here are some excerpts from the press release:

Mobile workers making deliveries or doing onsite service work usually require an acknowledgment signature by handing their mobile device to the customer for signing on screen. The BigChange app allows this signature to be captured on the recipient’s own smartphone.

The mobile worker simply shares the signature capture link which the recipient can receive via email, WhatsApp, SMS or whatever app they use. This allows sign off remotely and will also be useful generally where customers are not normally on site, such as installations, deliveries and services work at unmanned or remote sites.

Infotech and Command Alkon announced a partnership last month “to provide an e-Ticketing network to keep job sites safer through touchless ticket interactions.” According to the press release:

The e-Ticketing network combines Command Alkon’s CONNEX Platform and Infotech’s Doc Express service to remove the need for face-to-face interactions and ticket exchanges between suppliers and contractors at the jobsite. CONNEX offers electronic, real-time exchange of material delivery ticket data to remove the need for traditional exchange of paper tickets, while Doc Express provides a secure repository for electronic tickets for organized storage that is easy to search and filter.

Contactless delivery is also giving rise to new curbside services. For example, here’s a press release from last week: UPS And Michaels Launch Contactless Curbside Pickup Of Packages And Return Drop-Offs At UPS Access Point Locations. According to the press release:

Without ever entering the store, this new service provides consumers a safe, convenient option to ship UPS® packages directly to a Michaels store, as well as drop off pre-labeled shipments and make returns to any e-commerce retailer that accepts UPS returns shipments. Upon arrival at the location, a Michaels Team Member will safely and securely interact with the customer to facilitate a contactless process – start to finish. Customers simply need to call the store upon arrival, provide the Michaels Team Member with their name, along with a description of their car and the items, and have their ID (license or state-issued) ready when they pull up and pop the trunk.

And it’s increasing the value proposition of delivery robots and drones. “The adoption of robots and drones carrying goods speeds up as a frightened world craves safe delivery of everything from medical supplies to food,” wrote Christopher Mims in a recent Wall Street Journal article. Here’s more from the article:

Some variation of this [robot and drone delivery] process, a sort of unexpected wartime mobilization, is happening in cities including Tel Aviv; Hangzhou, China; Washington, D.C.; and Grand Forks, N.D. These efforts range from pilot programs to large-scale operations, with hundreds of delivery robots traveling on roads or in the air, collectively covering thousands of miles.

While some of these robots are quickly becoming an important part of health-care supply chains, most are helping simply by allowing “contactless” delivery of groceries and other essentials.

COVID-19 is disrupting virtually all supply chains. It is also serving as a catalyst for change and innovation. Contactless delivery is one example, and it will continue to evolve over time, enabled by new technologies and services.

The days of paper-based delivery processes are numbered. Contactless is the new standard.