Every month we select one logistics startup which represents a positive example of innovation in Logistics and Supply Chain and has the potential to alter the way the industry operates. This month, Transmetrics selected Shipamax, the leading logistics back-office automation solution, as the “Logistics Startup of the Month” for the remarkable achievements in digital data extraction and document processing acceleration.
In order to learn more about the company and what makes Shipamax stand out, we have talked with Jenna Brown, Co-founder and CEO at Shipamax, about the journey and what exactly are the current and the future of document processing in Logistics.
First of all, congratulations on becoming the Logistics Startup of the Month! Could you briefly introduce our readers to Shipamax?
Shipamax is a plug and play toolkit for back-office process automation in logistics. For example, as a freight forwarder, every shipment managed has a number of documents that need processing – Master Bills, House Bills, Supplier Invoices, etc. These documents typically get sent by email, downloaded and the details manually extracted and keyed into a TMS system. Our core product automatically extracts the data from these documents, understands it and syncs it with these internal systems, resulting in cost savings of more than 80%, while freeing up teams to focus on higher-value tasks.
Which industry problem are you trying to tackle with your solution? What kind of other solutions currently exist to address the same problem? What is the unique aspect of Shipamax that makes it stand out among these solutions?
Each year ocean freight forwarders exchange in excess of 12 billion documents that come in a variety of formats. Extracting key data from these documents has traditionally been a costly, labor-intensive manual process, that can often lead to inaccurate outputs when updating records within your TMS or ERP system.
We’ve worked with a number of logistics companies that have previously tried to solve this problem using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) as a data extraction tool. The issue with OCR technology is that each company has to start from scratch – setting up hundreds of templates to capture important fields and implementing rules to interpret this data. Given logistics documents vary wildly in form and content, this setup tends to break and be incredibly painful to maintain.
In contrast, Shipamax provides a plug and play solution, which requires minimal effort to set up and maintain. Our Anti-Template Technology doesn’t require rules or template setup, it learns from and understands the context of logistics documents, outputting a clean, structured data feed via the Shipamax API. The solution is designed to sit within your current workflow, ensuring data is synced in real-time with enterprise logistics systems such as CargoWise.
How do you ensure the accuracy of the extracted data? What are the common challenges connected to the data extraction process?
We train our models to minimize ‘false positives’ – i.e. we’d rather miss a field than input an incorrect field. Our Exception Manager is a simple ticketing system that highlights to users if a document could not be sent into their TMS / ERP system and why – based on criteria the company defines, as well as the minimum posting requirements from the TMS.
What is the most exciting customer success story of Shipamax that you can share with us?
We recently had a company integrate our API into their internal SAP system in about 1 day. They found, without any training on their data, we were already performing at a higher accuracy than an internal solution they’d built on top of a popular OCR system. For us, this was a huge validation of our proposition. We’re now just onboarding one of the world’s top 25 3PLs – so I’m looking forward to publishing this case study in the coming weeks.
What does it take for a company to start using your services?
Shipamax is designed to be plug & play – so no pilot or Proof of Concept is needed. However, we sometimes find large organizations prefer to run a Proof of Concept before they commit. Typically this will involve sending over a sample set of documents, for example, 500. We run these through Shipamax and, in addition, get the documents manually labeled for a view of the ‘ground truth’. We then compare the results to give the company an accuracy score based on their data.
After signing off on the solution, we’ll then pass the company to our Customer Success team who will deliver on their pre-agreed roll out plan. For CargoWise customers, we have out-of-the-box integrations – so the team will collect key details such as system credentials & user lists to get these set up within a couple of weeks. To absolutely ensure a smooth roll-out, we’ll also take a month’s worth of old data to test through the system to ensure nothing unexpected.
Depending on the document type (i.e. Bill of Lading, Commercial Invoice, Supplier Invoice), there’s an ‘interface’ for users to log in to help with the workflow. For example on Supplier Invoices, this is an exception management workflow – a simple, intuitive ticketing system that flags if any documents have been rejected by the ERP/TMP and why. Upon go-live, our Customer Success team will onboard under & help them get up and running.
By working with all types of clients – from brokers to the largest shippers in the world – you should have noticed some of the common industry problems. In your opinion, apart from the lack of back-office automation, what are the other typical challenges that the supply chain and logistics are facing? How can technology help to solve them?
One of the acute issues we see is ‘logistics orchestration’. Unlike internet purchases which can happen at a click of a button, logistics is messy. It’s ‘real-world’ – full of exceptions that humans, have to manage. Each transaction has an army of people collaborating to execute.
Again, unfortunately, the core root of this problem is the lack of standardization in documents. Turning unstructured data into machine-readable data is the first building block to solving this. Without the data automatically flowing into portals and orchestration tools, end-users won’t have a good user experience and teams will just revert back to their old ways.
Congratulations on the latest investment round! What are the challenges that you are going to tackle at first with the new resources?
Thank you! In the last 2.5 months, we’ve more than doubled the team from 12 in December to 25 today. The biggest focus for us has been how we scale out our processes. This has meant creating some new teams to productionize roles & allow our team to focus on what they do best. Two examples are Customer Success and Business Operations. This is going pretty smoothly. The second area of focus is product – we’re ramping up in data science & engineering to extend our offering – adding new document types & seamless new workflows. For example, our plug & play Commercial Invoice offering is on track to go live in the summer. This is one of our most in-demand products that already has a bunch of pre-orders!
What was the biggest learning point for you throughout the development of Shipamax? If you had a chance to do it all over again, is there something you would do differently?
As many technology buyers will bemoan, they’re inundated with technology offerings that are a ‘nice to have’ – it’s unclear exactly what the ROI is. When we first started Shipamax, I have to admit we fell into this category – we were initially focused on building a ‘collaboration tool’. It took a lot of hard truths for us to realize exactly what our core proposition was. We’d never lost a customer, so we knew there was intrinsic value in the technology. We had developed a proprietary NLP-based machine learning technology to solve an issue we had – taking unstructured data and plugging it into our collaboration tool. Turns out, the value driver was just that piece! We stripped back our offering, and that’s when sales cycles started to drop and things started to trend upwards and to the right.
If I were to go back again, I’d hope I would be more relentless on focusing on a clean-cut ROI earlier – this could have saved us a lot of time.
What major developments should we expect from Shipamax in 2020?
In January we released our ‘exceptions manager’ for Supplier Invoice processing. We’ve got a pending announcement on a workflow tool for Bills of Lading – more on this soon! As mentioned, we’re releasing our Commercial Invoice solution in the summer.
Probably one of the biggest changes you’ll see on Shipamax over the next few months is us publishing more information on what we do when it’s a good fit for organizations and who we work with. We’ve been flying under the radar for the past few years so we’re looking forward to sharing this.