Anything that slows down the supply chain is not good unless it is a planned delay to give the next link in the chain lead or preparation time to accommodate its own internal processes.
Most delays are unplanned and therefore the contingency planning for unhappy surprises is a key factor in supply-chain management.
Conversely, anything that speeds up the supply chain without incurring additional expediting fees is a good thing. Also, we all know if something is sped up too fast, it becomes error prone due to both human and equipment difficulties. So reaching an optimum performance for both speed and accuracy is essential for establishing and maintaining best-practices.
Recently, I refinanced my home and the entire process from application to closing took less than 21 days. At final signing, a notary, my wife, and I worked through about an hour of signing innumerous documents that, in total, comprised a stack of paperwork about five inches thick.
Lack of friction
Here's the kicker: I also refinanced about a year earlier, and the entire process lasted about three months, involved about three times as many people, and an unimaginable number of phone calls. The second round of refinancing I did completely online. I never met the broker; I never called him on the phone.
The most time-consuming effort within the entire process was the retrieval and scanning of all the essential documents required to process the transaction. I had to scan, convert to PDF, sign, and upload about 30 documents, including bank statements, proof of home insurance, savings and brokerage accounts, etc. Once I had the lot converted into PDF e-documents, the work was 90 percent complete. All that remained was to sign the documents the loan company sent to me. I did not have to scan these and upload. I was able to "e-sign" at my keyboard and that was as good as my written signature.
After all the documents requested were uploaded, I received real-time progress reports on each document's review and acceptance status. Every day, I received an email requesting me to log in and check the latest updates to my loan application's progress. The log-in took me directly to my update and I watched the progress of my loan's march towards approval via a real-time dashboard graphic.
Moving paperwork around while waiting for signatures and the proper authorizations is a very burdensome and time-consuming process. If a document or a single page is lost in the handling, recovery efforts have to be made to bring the paper logistics back to conformity.
The supply chain creates a massive amount of sensitive documents, including packing slips, invoices, contracts, manifests, and letters of intent... ad infinitum. Currently, the security and authenticity of many of these documents can be relatively assured via radio frequency identification tags pressed in-between layers in a single page. But the paper pages are not encrypted, and so unauthorized eyes can still read the contents of every page.
The best of both worlds is to have an encrypted e-signature capability for both "in the clear" and encrypted documents that can be read or printed with authorized access only. Imagine how much faster the administrative aspects of the supply chain would be if all paper-based transactions were digitized and archived for instant initial access and research retrieval.
Security and speed
Several companies are already offering these services with additional security levels for individual document access. One company has a real estate-centric product that could have been the engine behind my recent refinance transaction.
At any rate, I enjoyed a three-month process being reduced to 21 days because of the online, two-way access to the critical documents needed to reduce my personal cost of living. With enhancements in the transportation logistics supply chain alone, electronic documents and signatures for customs, duty, and freight processing would reduce or eliminate many delays in both domestic and international trade.
Lead-times, including queues, can be dramatically reduced. Expedited parts and assemblies will give rise to finished goods time-to-market improvements. This all adds up to a more efficient, secure, and cost-effective supply chain.