Tuesday, February 05, 2008


Paperless International Shipping


UPS Goes Paperless for Global Shipments and Returns


This article describes UPS’s plan to go paperless for global shipments and returns. Besides reducing the 86+ million pieces of paper they go through each year, UPS wants their new system to reduce the work customers need to do to ship something overseas. Customs clearance and international returns are two main problems UPS wants to address.

By automating many of the processes needed to initiate a shipment or return to clear customs, mistakes are reduced and shipments are delivered faster. Furthermore, the number of personnel dedicated to global shipping services can also be reduced – which is great for smaller businesses.

UPS claims that their new service is easy to implement into existing electronic shipping systems. Once installed, the customer has to register their company letterhead and create a digital signature. Third world sites with primitive systems will continue to use printed materials, but should not affect the new system.

D-O-C-U-M-E-N-T Checklist:

D -- data types and document types

This article talks about reducing the paperwork to send shipments overseas and receive customer-return shipments. Since UPS processes more than 86 million piece of paper each year, going paperless will save time and money. They hope that their automated, paperless system will help tackle problems related to customs clearance and international returns.

O -- organizational transactions and processes

The overall processes of getting a shipment from point-A to point-B does not change much. Instead, through automation, transactions are easier to initiate and modify, coupled with improved error-checking. Additionally, the difficulty in creating documents for return shipments is reduced.

C -- context

The context of the article is that shipment overseas is difficult, especially with the documentation needed to get items from one place to another.

In this case, all of UPS international shipments are affected by the new system. UPS claims it will be “relatively easy to install the services” and will “go to customer sites to … [integrate the new system] for them.”

Customers with incompatible, primitive systems will continue to use paper, but should not affect the new system.

U -- user types and special user requirements

The users of the system are the shippers, recipients, and return-shipment customers.

Shippers must have infrastructure that can communicate with electronic shipping systems and be compatible with the UPS system. They must go through an initial registration process to provide a company letterhead and electronic signature.

M -- models, patterns, or standards that apply or that are needed

Since UPS says it will be easy to incorporate the new UPS paperless system into existing electronic shipping systems, there is likely some interoperability involved. It must work with the existing electronic shipping systems, interact with customs information, and provide tracking information.

Since UBL is a rising standard for documents including purchase orders and invoices providing strong data types and validation, it would be a good system to compare to.

E -- enterprises and eco systems

The ecosystem consists of UPS (transportation and distribution), customs, customers/recipients, and the small to large businesses that utilize its service. These groups need to communicate information reliably and efficiently to make sure the package gets to the correct location in a timely manner.

N -- the needs (business case) driving the enterprise(s)

Going to a paperless system (or near paperless system in the case of third world countries) will expedite shipping and delivery since less time will be used to fill out paperwork manually.

Filling out multiple pages of forms can be difficult to ship overseas. Another difficulty is the paperwork associated with return shipments. Automating many of these processes through paperless forms will help to “clear customs, reduce mistakes, and accelerate shipments.”

Improved shipping and returns will lead to more “purchase[s] over the Web.”

T -- technology constraints and opportunities

Constraints may include systems that may be incompatible with the UPS paperless system. Opportunity could include higher sales/shipments because of the reduced time spent on invoicing manually. It would also be easier to get up-to-date status updates and track shipments. Searching through invoices should also be easier since they are all under one system.

-Michael Lee

It's also a nice example of a rules-driven system.

Author of Smart (enough) Systems
Blog at www.smartenoughsystems.com/wp
I agree with Mr. Taylor's opinion this case is a rules-driven system. In addition, I could come BPM (Business Process Management) and BRE (Business Rule Engine) to mind. The automation of business processes require a set of rules and procedures. Also, which information/participants are necessary for each step should be specified.

Adding on his example in his blog, I would say my experience on the project of process standardization in LG Europe. Even though the company were really ambitious to have a completely standardized logistics process over all the European countries, there were limitations in that each country has different local law. For example, when a defective product is returned from a customer to LG, the UK law allows a logistics company to pick up a product from a customer and deliver to LG even before the manufacturer does not refund. On the contrary, in France, due to customer protection, a logistics company cannot get a product from a customer before the manufacturer refunds. (I don't overlook different procedures imply different documents and information.)

So, the automation of business processes requires the reflection of distinct information, document and procedures depending on different situations like countries.
Loose coupling and rules-driven systems are getting to be a common theme. Here, the data types would have to be generic to allow for differences between countries and changes in the rules. In the DataPortability example, things like usernames, passwords, and user data would have to work across multiple websites. In my example, different elections would have different rules. I think only the Mad Cow example involves a standardized regime, although that, too would have to be implemented by a lot of different players.
One potential constraint that comes to my mind is its adopting cost, which will eventually be paid by UPS. According to Kuehn from the original article, UPS will go to customer sites to facilitate the use of the new UPS services at large retailers.
Good article that nicely follows up on our "paperless trading" reading a few weeks ago. But I'm amused by this quote by Kurt Kuehn, UPS senior VP of worldwide sales and marketing:

"Many customers will find it relatively easy to install the services in existing systems, particularly after they have ensured their existing processes can communicate with electronic shipping systems."

... which is saying "after you've finished what could be a very difficult integration task and 'service-enabled' your external-facing systems, it will be easy to plug our services in."

Yes, that's right. And after I've climbed to the top of Mt Whitney it will be easy to sign the log book that shows I did it.

bob glushko
This is an interesting discussion really and although the processes and protocols can be documentised and processed effectively and also efficiently, varying rules on international shipping service will make total process management almost impossible. I'm not sure a total BPM system is possible here. Perhaps this could be implemented and work within the EU as their shipping red tape is fairly similar, but again there are differences across the borders.
Thank You for information. The thing I most liked in electronic shipping system that implementation of digital signature. Digital Signature maximizes security and easy to handle as compared to manual signature.
Thanks for the article, very helpful information.
I read your post and i really like your post. Thank you for sharing this post.
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Great info! Very simple and easy…nobody can explain as interesting as this. I appreciate your time and effort on making things simple and easily understandable. I have bookmarked your site...

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