Managing Critical Item Delivery


Every item you deliver to your customer is important. But some items are critical. Modern mobile technology can help eliminate the slipups.


Every company that delivers products to customers (i.e. virtually every manufacturer and distributor, as well as many retailers) should strive to deliver perfect orders — the customer receiving exactly the right items, undamaged, delivered on time, packed correctly, with accurate, complete documentation, and invoiced correctly. However, depending on the business and criticality of the items being delivered, some companies need to be ‘more perfect’ than others.

Challenges of Paper-driven Delivery Processes

As shown in Figure 1 below, many things can go wrong when the process of picking, loading, and delivering is driven by paper-based systems and documents.

Figure 1 – Key Challenges in a Manual, Paper-driven Delivery Chain

Scanning Reduces Errors

How can mobile technology help? When companies transition from paper to mobile technologies, it helps in many ways. For starters, mobile devices can be used to scan pallets, cases, and items at every step of the journey, as shown in Figure 2 below.

Figure 2 – Scanning at Each Step Reduces Errors Dramatically

Scanning dramatically reduces the rate of errors end-to-end. Workers can be alerted if they are putting the wrong item in the case or on the truck, or taking the wrong item out of the truck at the delivery end. This scanning is the foundation for the perfect order. In addition to reducing worker errors, it captures the information electronically, allowing much more predictable, accurate and timely generation of documentation (such as manifests) and EDI messages, such as the ASN (Advanced Ship Notice). An ASN is not very useful if it is delivered after the items are delivered (i.e. an ‘After-the-fact Ship Notice’).

Chain-of-Custody Tracking and Proof-of-Delivery

For critical items, it is vital that the chain-of-custody is tracked at each hand-off. In some cases, a record of the chain-of-custody is mandated by law. In other cases, it is driven by the desire to have an indisputable record of who had the items, at each step, all the way to signed-off acceptance by the end customer. Payroll checks are in this category where you really want to know who has taken possession of them. Since ~80% of ADP’s deliveries are done via outsourced couriers, the ability to track these hand-offs and capture a signature at the point of delivery was critical for them. Mobile devices, with signature capture, provided this capability.


Some critical items are temperature sensitive, fragile, or vulnerable to other environmental factors such as humidity. In these cases, it is important to monitor the condition of the items as they travel through the supply chain. Here mobile sensors can help to ensure that the product is kept at the right temperature or not subject to excessive shocks or other environmental conditions. A warning can be sent to alert the driver, dispatcher or others of a problem that can then be corrected. It is also human nature that people will be more careful in handling these items when they know it is being monitoring and that a time-stamped digital record of all the events is being recorded and can be correlated back to their specific actions.

Figure 3 – Automated Processes using Mobile / Cloud-based Technologies

Customer Satisfaction

Mobile technologies, combined with a cloud platform, can help solve many of the challenges in the delivery chain. The ultimate goal is improved performance and customer satisfaction. When it comes to critical items, the recipient will be very demanding about receiving them on-time and in proper working condition. This applies whether it’s items which, if missing or late, will cause production to stop at a factory ; or missing paychecks that someone is depending on; or life-saving drugs that can become ineffective without proper handling. Agreement on exactly what was delivered can be done right there at the dock door, while both parties are standing in front of the goods being delivered. The items have been scanned with proof-of-delivery, or even a clean final invoice, signed off by the customer. This cuts way down on painful disputes down the road, which are all too common in paper-driven systems. All in all, mobile technologies can play a critical role in ensuring that customers are happy, which is especially important for the most critical items.

To view other articles from this issue of the brief, click here.

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