GS1 Germany, BVL, and T-Systems have already spent two years tinkering away in a bid to figure out how to replace paper delivery notes. The analog document accompanies all deliveries until the goods are received, and has so far always been passed on and processed manually. In practice, the drivers act as the messenger, handing the paper document over to the recipient together with the goods. In this industry, delivery notes are thus often seen as receipts that simultaneously confirm receipt of the purchased goods. In other words, the retailer scans and archives a copy, while the original is sent back via the forwarding agent.
On average, confirmations of delivery take ten days to be received. Only then can the billing process be completed, which can severely slow down cash flow to suppliers and cause liquidity problems for small and medium enterprises (SMEs). If the invoice has already been issued, any discrepancies can result in cost-intensive corrections or even full cancellation of the invoice and re-issue of a new one. Coupled with this is the fact that the delivery notes are difficult for the frequently changing drivers to read, or, in the worst-case scenario, may even get lost.
The result? Paper chaos, mistakes, and lost time – the last of these being particularly critical for billing when dealing with manufacturers and suppliers. Not to mention the avoidable paper usage. Plus, there are no legal regulations governing the document. Every company issues their own delivery notes following their own methods, making the whole process even less transparent.
The joint “Digital Delivery Note” pilot project in the summer of 2021 demonstrated how much better the digital format is. Twenty retailers, industrial companies, and logisticians spent four whole weeks testing the process in practice. The participants included Beiersdorf, Henkel, Nagel Group, and DHL Freight, as well as four distribution centers for the DM, Rewe, and Penny retail chains.
And it was a success in every respect: Some 160 users created a total of 156 “delivery note folders”, thereby saving on 228 paper delivery notes. Apart from the sustainability aspect, the solution also dramatically speeds up delivery processes, which were cut by up to ten days! The contactless handover using QR-code scan, the digital signature, and the fact that no delivery note needed to be printed out also proved to be impressive.
Two-thirds of the participants want to keep using the digital solution and welcome the standardized document format. One such participant is Birgit Heitzer, head of logistics at the Rewe Group. “We took part in the pilot project at our national warehouse in Luisenburg and are delighted. Just the simplified process and how much faster the whole thing is (…). There is nothing but benefits for everyone involved, and I really hope with all my heart that we gain more traction in this area and are able to implement it next year, not just in the consumer goods industry but everywhere,” she said.
The name says it all; the digital delivery note is run digitally as a web app via a central, cloud-based platform called “Cloud4Log”. One of its greatest benefits is that users do not have to log in or install any apps, which is something that has proven to be the technical downfall of previous projects, with many drivers not wanting to download apps on their private cell phones.
The web app supports all different roles, from dispatchers to drivers to recipients and even authorities, e.g. in the event of police checks. This is made possible by the system’s three-layer architecture. It consists of a back-end system, a frontend system either created by T-Systems or sourced from third-party systems, and an interface system that connects the two systems. Open interfaces (APIs) ensure multiple software programs, including third-party systems, can exchange data and information without any problem.
“What makes our solution special is that we’ve given it an open design, meaning other providers supporting the delivery note processes (e.g. transport management systems) are able to easily integrate these.” explains Steffen Passmann, Product Unit Digital Solutions at T-Systems.
The process starts with the sender when an order is loaded. Instead of documenting this in paper format, as it was previously the case, the forwarding agent uploads the document online in the cloud in a format defined by GS1 and BVL via the frontend system provided or the open interface.
Before starting the trip, the driver digitally confirms the loaded goods and receives a QR code he or she can use to retrieve the delivery note at any time, e.g. during a general traffic check. Complex processes are also supported. Among other things, logisticians and forwarding agents are able to pool entire folders and individual delivery notes for specific runs.
When the goods arrive at their destination, the incoming goods workers can use the QR code to classify the delivery and submit it to the company’s own inventory management system. Discrepancies in quantity can be noted in the digital delivery folder, e.g. through comprehensive documentation directly in the app or by attaching an incoming goods receipt. Any defects are recorded in a similar manner, with an additional option of being documented with photos. The same applies when changing load carriers, after which the incoming goods department and the driver each digitally sign off on the consignment.
The receipted delivery note is then immediately available to all partners in the supply chain, and further steps, such as issuing an incoming goods receipt or invoices for retailers and forwarding agents, can then be initiated automatically. This not only saves time, but also additional administrative and paper costs, as the invoice does not need to be corrected and re-issued in the event of any discrepancies.
As the developer of the system, T-Systems advocates compliance with the GDPR and data protection throughout the entire process: “Delivery notes contain sensitive information and business secrets for all parties involved. That’s just one of the reasons security is of central importance to us, both in terms of IT and software, as well as participants’ data and privacy,” says Steffen Passmann.
The platform has been technically available since the beginning of November and the first beeps are ringing out at German warehouses. This will see GS1 Germany and BVL kill two birds with one stone. The digitalization and simultaneous standardization of delivery notes will decisively increase supply chain efficiency – and very likely in industries beyond just logistics