Making Paperless a Possibility for the Dairy Industry
By: Duane Banderob Chief Operating Officer, Ever.Ag

In 1999, Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin, and the Backstreet Boys were in their prime. Unfortunately, those days are long gone. Now, these big names are hosting reunion tours and filling arenas with millennials reliving their teenage years. And although 1999 seems like a distant, albeit nostalgic, memory, that era might be the last time the dairy industry made a concerted effort to upgrade core technology platforms – only prompted by fears surrounding Y2K.

A few firms across the dairy supply chain have made the leap and invested in massive ERP projects – think SAP, Oracle, or JD Edwards. However, the truth is that the overwhelming majority remain a couple of decades behind the level of technology adoption that most of us are accustomed to, especially in our personal lives.

New Decade, New Consumers, New Innovations

The tide seems to be turning again as the result of a few different but related forces. On the demand side of the equation, consumers now desire insight into where and how their food is produced. Similarly, fast-food and casual dining establishments tout technology in multiple areas, and it even helps unlock key details about where their ingredients are sourced. Customers, exporters, and regulators add yet another layer of requirements that dairy companies are keen to keep up with, mainly around data accessibility and visibility.

Then 2020 happened. The global pandemic skewed society’s aversion to germs, bacteria, and viruses, and this is impacting how business is done at almost every level. Anything and everything that could carry germs became a risk, and it appears that many of the changes made in 2020 – often where technology replaced a once manual process – could remain for the long haul.

Making a Paperless Supply Chain a Reality

For several years now, frequent fliers have relied on mobile boarding passes, rental car receipts via e-mail, and expense reports uploaded through an app. It’s a far cry from the heavy dependence on paper that currently exists in the dairy industry.

For example, paper manifests or plant QA logs are still the norm for many dairy operations. Both are tried and true methods for capturing critical data – but they’re a decade or two behind the times, and we all know they’re not perfect.

Digitizing the Farm Pick-Up Process

In the farm pick-up process, drivers hauling milk for multiple farms handle paper at every location. Then, they pass that paperwork, which has now been held by numerous people in several different places, to the plant receiver at their destination. Today’s tools are able to alter this foundational process to be low-to-no contact.

For example, smartphone apps can collect manifest information, allowing for quicker data accessibility, eliminating lost tickets, and lowering the operational risk caused by written documentation – incorrect data, misinformation, lost paperwork, delayed communication, limited audibility, and more. Some may worry that digitizing this approach may not work for everyone, but it’s important not to let a few people who are slow to adapt prevent progress and its many benefits.

Plants, co-ops, and their haulers are increasingly favoring the elimination of paper, instead opting for mobile applications that digitize all salient details of the collection, movement, and delivery of milk. By doing so, they reduce the potential of any mistakes or disruptions, minimize wait time for haulers, and can make data-driven decisions with real-time information – no more waiting on the manifest information or wondering where it went.

It’s not without challenges, however. In fact, some state regulations still require paper for some steps along the pick-up process – even as the FDA provides guidance that electronic records are okay.

Going Paperless at the Plant

The issues in this process don’t stop after delivery. We all know that dairy processing plants are constantly busy balancing receiving and transport bays, and sometimes struggle with the flexibility and agility today’s commerce requires.

As the industry looks for ways to solve these challenges, firms are increasing the use of electronic receiving platforms. Plants of any age can implement them – even new plants in the middle of construction or those more than a century old can quickly reduce risk through digital data and record collection. The digital aspect of these solutions also provides more accuracy and timeliness to the data collected, accelerating the next step in the supply chain.

Why Embracing Paperless Is Important

Time and time again, the last ones to embrace technology usually miss key cost-savings and operational efficiencies. Sometimes, these failures can make or break a business. For a long time, the problems surrounding paper processes were undeniable but tolerated. Now that their solutions exist, it seems time to start doing things differently.

Maybe “Love Don’t Cost a Thing” if you ask J. Lo, but refusing to adapt in an always-evolving world can sure cost a lot.

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