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Updated December 9, 2022
The Industry’s Largest Single Customer Encourages Adoption of Digital Inventories
It is estimated that the United States Transportation Command (Transcom) sponsors as many as 320,000 shipments of household goods and personal effects annually making them the largest single customer of moving services in the world.
The United States Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) has issued their final business rules for 2023. And while the use of electronic inventories is “highly encouraged” by the command, it will not be a requirement this year under the Defense Personal Property Program (DP3) rules.
It is a certainty electronic inventories will be a future requirement for Department of Defense shipments, but it appears the enforcement of their use will not likely start until the execution of the Global Household Goods Contract.
The current USTRANSCOM Tender of Service document governing the business rules under which Department of Defense shipments are transported contains the following language relating to household goods inventories:
As the industry’s largest single customer, the procedures and rules for military moves can and do establish default industry standards which may be the catalyst the industry requires to speed up adoption of digital inventory technology.
Many service providers (asset-based movers that employ operational staff, operate trucks, warehouses and provide the physical moving and storage services) who are ready to adopt and implement digital inventories are rightfully concerned about choosing the right platform and software. In order for digital inventories to deliver true efficiency, the various service providers that interact with a shipment must be able to interchange information digitally.
If the digital inventory system used to create the inventory and bar code stickers at origin cannot interchange data digitally to the warehouse providing SIT services, the digital inventory must be printed onto the piece of paper, and we are right back to where we started with an analog handwritten inventory with improved penmanship.
Interoperability refers to the ability of different computer systems to exchange and make use of information. Without a solution to interoperability between the various computer systems, digital inventories will only produce a nicely printed paper inventory at origin.
A Digital Standard
Recognizing the industry need, the International Association of Movers (IAM) established the ISO Standard 17451:2016 parts 1 and 2 entitled Packaging — Codification of contents for inventories for shipments of household goods and personal effects. Part 1 established the numeric codification of inventories. Part 2 established the XML messaging structure for electronic transmission of inventory data.
These are the essential infrastructure building blocks to realize the true potentials of digitizing inventory information – the exchange of this data between the stakeholders collaborating on a move thus creating the opportunity for the industry to eliminate hundreds of millions of dollars annually in redundant data entry, and manual document exchange. In addition, claims adjudicators and insurance companies stand will be able to make quantum improvements in claims resolution and accuracy.
While making this standard available is a huge achievement, two parties that wish to exchange data must still commit significant resources to implementing and maintaining the integration between the two systems. In addition, there are few economies of scale in that each party must still implement separate integrations with each new network member. Given the investments required, data integration has not been successful so far.
Overcoming Interoperability Challenges
Some digital inventory system providers are now rolling out systems that bypass the need for interoperability altogether, at least in the inventory creation, check-off and chain of custody processes. This is achieved through the deployment of lightweight apps can be instantly downloaded onto smart phones and tablets. A moving company can “push” a link to a van operator by text message. Clicking on the link downloads the lightweight app along with the necessary shipment related information to the van operator’s smart phone.
While the app is lightweight, it is full featured permitting the van operator to efficiently create a digital inventory. When the inventory is complete, the van operator can either pass the smart phone to the customer to review and sign or push a link via the cloud to the customer to complete the review and sign off. The van operator can now push the completed, signed inventory back to the moving company.
At destination, if SIT is required; the moving company can push a link to the warehouse which allows them to download a Checkoff App to complete checkoff, sometimes called bingo sheet, process. At time of final delivery to the customer’s residence, the link can be sent to the delivery crew leader or the transferee who can download the app, and origin inventory to complete the checkoff process at residence. The checkoff summary document (pdf) containing photos of damaged articles and unmarked packages along with signatures can be shared immediately with all the key stakeholders in the relocation.
Feedback from initial trials is positive and point to ready acceptance by service providers and van operators.
What Becomes Possible?
The widespread adoption of digital inventories creates the potential for some interesting possibilities:
- Customer Satisfaction – One of the single biggest causes of customer dissatisfaction relates to customer misunderstanding of the inventory process and its importance in establishing a piece count, condition report at origin and acceptance report a destination. Digital inventories will make the process clear, transparent and will demystify the exception coding system.
- Claims Reduction – The increased accuracy, photographic documentation of pre-existing damage and efficiency of digital inventory apps work together to accurately document condition reports at origin, destination and at each step in the chain of custody reducing the risk of fraudulent claims.
- Crew Efficiency – Yes, as with any change, there is a process of becoming familiar with the system but once this investment has been made the returns are exceptional in the form of efficiency and job satisfaction.
- Digital Translation – The ISO 17451 Standards have language translation capability built in. The description “Sofa” becomes encoded into a unique number as does the exception “Scratched” Once encoded, translation becomes simple. This not only makes translations for customs clearance more efficient, offering the inventory in the native language of operations crews at destination makes the inventory reconciliation process more accurate and efficient.
- Utilizing barcodes. – Bar codes can be utilized at every step of the inventory checking process. Itemized barcodes are an integral part of a digital inventory system facilitating accurate accountability at every step of the chain of shipment custody. Barcodes also increase operational efficiency reducing the time required to prepare and check off inventory items.
- Inventory Checkoff App – Utilizing cloud-based technology, software providers are starting to offer a lightweight application that can be downloaded to a user’s device along with the data specific to a shipment’s inventory. This allows the customer, driver or service provider to use their own device to access and check off the inventory simply by clicking a link in an e-mail or text message.
- Data Interchange – The ISO 17451 Standards provide the road map for digital data interchange of inventory information. Origin agents will be able to upload the information seamlessly to not only the destination agent but also the Transportation Service Provider, Claims Adjudicator or Insurance Company (if required), and important to the customer.
Data interchange will also pave the way for digital clearance of international shipments which will inevitably become a requirement by certain countries. It is important for the industry to establish and offer a standard before the customs departments of countries stipulate their own standards.
- Wider Data Interchange – The standards and infrastructure necessary for the efficient interchange of inventory data becomes a foundation upon which the moving industry can build standards for the interchange of comprehensive shipment data. This holds the potential for some of the largest efficiency and quality improvement gains for our industry and the related mobility services industry that we are a part of.
About Voxme Software, Inc.
Voxme Software was founded in 2003 with a vision to help facilitate efficiency and connectivity within the moving industry the application of leading-edge technology. Thanks to the rapid development of smart devices and cloud technology, Voxme has enjoyed industry wide adoption of its pre-move survey (Voxme Estimator) and driver inventory (Voxme Inventory) app, which are used by the largest military and residential movers in the world.
True to the company mission of making digital inventory accessible to any mover anywhere in the world, Voxme has rolled out a simple digital inventory and bingo label portal that provides the 3 cornerstones of a real inventory control (click on the links to view the videos):
This allows moving professionals to build a simple solution that suits their needs and pay as you go on a transaction based pricing model.
“We started using electronic inventories back in 2015 and we’ve been steadily increasing our usage. We are just shy of about 27,000 inventories right now. All of our implementations are done overseas. We don’t have any CONUS (continental US) agents. We had few different challenges – languages and learnings and things like that but it’s been going very well for us.” – Ken Nishida – The Pasha Group