How RPA Gives Freight Forwarders a Competitive Advantage


Over the past few years, much has been said and written about the game-changing impact of robotic process automation (RPA). Because RPA bots can perform high volume, repeatable tasks previously performed by humans, they offer a significant opportunity to streamline and improve the efficiency of work. Among the industries that stand to benefit the most are freight-forwarding and logistics companies that perform the highly complex day-to-day operations of moving shipments domestically and internationally using different modes of transportation.

A typical logistics supply chain or freight-forwarding operation revolves around a transportation management system (TMS), which helps manage end-to-end movement of freight, including shipment invoicing, accounts receivable and collections, shipment tracking, data entry, operation management, break bulk, intercompany transactions, accounts payable, document management and reporting.

An end-to-end “ship to pay” lifecycle involves a series of manual processes and touchpoints with multiple layers of validations and approvals. Managing ship-to-pay processes requires managing the flow of data from one system to another through manual work processes – a time-consuming and error-prone activity. These kinds of tasks are perfect candidates for RPA, which can minimize manual entry by connecting to an enterprise’s API to communicate with its systems and electronically send two-way data on shipment movement or invoice charges. 

The chart below lists some of the freight forwarding activities that offer an automation opportunity:


Automation Opportunity

Customer Onboarding

RPA can automate new customer onboarding processes, including credit check, invoice set up, tariff set up and payment plan set up, leaving exception handling to be managed manually.

Data Entry

Rules-based data entry can be automated to increase efficiency and accuracy in fields like “origin,” “customer name,” “destination,” “address,” “SLA,” “account number,” quantities,” to reduce the burden on human workers and provide support when peak volume is expected.

Shipment Tracking

RPA can connect to customer systems via APIs to track typical milestones, such as “on hand at origin,” “confirm on board,” “proof of delivery” and “out for delivery.” This helps speed shipments to their destinations and improve SLAs, including one-day SLAs or next flight out (NFO) shipments.

By tracking milestones automatically, distressed shipments can be prioritized and pushed to the destination.


RPA can automatically capture all the necessary data on an invoice, approve or reject an invoice based on workflow rules, take care of special tariff rates and unblock blocked invoices using a set of decision-making criteria.

Invoice Delivery

RPA can automate invoice delivery to enhance the delivery-to-pay lifecycle and accelerate the customers’ acceptance/rejection process.


Automation can help the collections team prioritize Accounts Receivables (AR) and refunds to ensure revenue and close books during business reviews.

Documentation Management

Automation can help build and manage the documentation repository by capturing, indexing, and archiving forms, bills of lading, vendor invoices and emails generated from different sources and make them readily accessible when required.

Tariff Management

Automation can manage notifications of tariff expiration with minimal hand off for approval workflow.

Reporting & Analytics

Automation can help build and update reports, which can serve as a catalyst for business operations.

The four top benefits of automating tasks in logistics and freight-forwarding include:

  1. Increased accuracy, efficiency and timeliness: It’s painful to explain to a customer that their shipment was incorrectly routed or incurred heavy storage costs due to incorrect data entry. RPA helps integrate customer systems such as ERP software, internal databases and external websites to eliminate the possibility of keying in the wrong information and increases performance time and efficiency.
  2. Increased availability of intelligent data: A single robot can generate a great deal of valuable information. For example, automation can give a list of optimized network lanes to move freight with minimum cost and maximized profit. Let’s say a customer needs to move a NFO shipment from Dallas to Portland using Carrier A. Data can show that customers picked Carrier A 80 percent of the time because of its low cost, but that 20 percent of the time Carrier A was late, causing bad customer service and other downstream impacts. In the long run, this shows that the effort to save money upfront might inhibit new market share and hurt business overall. Access to valuable data allows decision makers to see the total cost of decisions and mitigate future bad decisions.
  3. Improve customer service: How much does it cost when you lose a customer? RPA has a direct impact on the customer experience, giving them access to costs and ETA through features, such as real-time freight tracking, auto pick-up, invoicing and invoice delivery and a quicker AR cycle. Customers also can download freight/invoice related documents for further compliance.
  4. Improve scalability and speed: Imagine taking on a new customer with many transactions. How do you handle so many invoices with minimal impact to the cashflow? Because RPA can seamlessly put new users into the system and take on tasks in accounting within the TMS, all freight invoices can be consolidated into one weekly invoice and delivered swiftly with the appropriate documentation to the customer.

As logistics and freight-forwarding companies embrace automation, employees, customers and decision makers alike have a lot to gain. Identifying the right solution for your enterprise can be the key to long-term profitability and growth. ISG helps freight forwarding companies understand the changing automation market, identify process candidates that promise a healthy return on investment and manage the associated change to the workplace. Contact us to find out how we can help.