Over the last years, several studies have been made regarding how much time is wasted in an organization, just handling documents and mails. One of the most recent studies, performed by IDC on behalf of Adobe, concludes that information workers can waste up to 11 hours per week, just by handling information – wasting 11 hours, not including the time it takes to actually do the work.
Although it is a generic study, this might just as well be the case for shipping companies. Most people working in shipping are today burdened by huge amounts of e-mail, in many cases information which is not being acted upon; documents and contracts regarding past business, which is hard to remember and even harder to find in the archive – and all in all a problematic workflow with each business entered involving several types of information, electronic and physical, which is not stored in just 1 place (or 2, or 3, for that matter). So chances are that the study is just as valid for shipping as it is for any other industry.
So given that there are plenty of studies all pointing in the same direction, that we are all wasting too much time handling the information, and not being productive – why aren’t we changing that?
Shipping is a very traditional industry, and a lot of people still prefer to do things ‘the old way’ – and if one link in the whole chain of elements in a shipping deal insists on doing things the old way, the rest of the chain will have to adopt to that. And as there are a lot doing that, the others think it is just easier to do things the old way all the time, so they don’t change their ways either. In this way, everything remains the same, and new technology is not being used to change and improve the conditions.
There are three elements involved in changing these conditions:
- New tools – which can help the end users to work in different, smarter, faster, more productive ways. There are plenty of modern tools in the market, which supports all the modern ways of working with e-mails, documents, mobile connectivity, access anywhere and whatever other requirements there are to be supporting modern ways of working.
- End users – who will have to learn how to use the new systems in detail, and that they persistently use it from the beginning. For every new system being implemented in the world, there are for sure 10 new reasons given by end users why this particular business still needs to be handled the old way – but it should not be possible. The change must be permanent. With the proper training, the end users will be able to drive the change in behavior themselves.
- Last, but not least, the decision makers – will have to decide what tools to use, how to use them, and ensure that the tools are being used. The transition is always a challenge, but if you can save just a fraction of the 11 hours per employee per week, it is worth it in the long run.
None of this has really changed over the last years, so there must be something else holding the change back – and a big element is the user friendliness of the systems used. For a while, tools have been developed to provide the technical and functional solutions – but now where there are more and more systems competing for the same market, the providers are starting to change focus towards the user interfaces and user friendliness of their tools, in order to gain market share in a market with more competitors, and less investment capital from their customers.
The IT departments are no longer investing in IT systems without asking the end users to participate in the selection process. As long as the technical criteria are met, the one providing the solution that the end users like will win the customer.
A lot of shipping companies are still behind on the technical side, but with time they will also start to see benefits in the new user interfaces and ways of working. It will not be without challenges – going from Windows XP to Windows 8 will probably be a tough move for many, but given that people are getting more and more used to modern day interfaces, the adaption will come quicker than both the IT department and the end user will expect. And with the right, user-friendly tools in place, we can finally start working on eliminating some of those 11 hours per week…