The Mediterranean Shipping Company
The second largest container shipping company in the world
From its Ipswich headquarters, MSC UK offers shippers and consignees a comprehensive range of services supported by branch offices in London, Liverpool and Glasgow together with experienced operational management at major UK ports, providing on the spot supervision of MSC vessels. MSC meets its exacting customer needs with nearly 30 years experience and 500 committed staff.
Shipping is a highly competitive industry where ocean rates, service viability, schedules and reputation are critical factors to attracting customers. Retaining customers also relies on service quality and how well the company responds to customer queries pre and post shipping. MSC UK achieves this careful balance of price, reputation and service levels by remaining one step ahead on internal efficiency so that service is never compromised and customers remain loyal. Technology plays a key role in this ambition and when Mike Wilson, MSC UK’s Quality Manager spearheaded a team to find an electronic workflow and document archive system for the MSC Import department, he knew the reputation of the business would hinge on the system and supplier that he selected.
We have been able to redeploy staff to customer facing roles, our working environment is much improved with less paper and clutter, desks are clean and customer queries are being handled quicker and more efficiently.
FOCUS ON CUSTOMER QUERY RESOLUTION
MSC UK handles over 600 vessel arrivals annually and volumes of container business are increasing year on year. Each import transaction carries with it critical paperwork which is managed by the MSC import team. One example is the Bill of Lading which acts as the ‘Document of Title’ without which the container cannot be released to its owner. Mike explains, “The more containers we import, the greater the number of files and documents we need to handle. We were reaching saturation point not only in storage space but also in the time that was being consumed manually searching for files. Time that was impacting on our customer service levels.”
Simply throwing more resource at the problem was not the answer. If the company was to meet its customer service expectations and its business growth ambitions of 10-15% per annum then it needed to find a way to manage the import documents and processes electronically.
“The speed with which we resolve customer queries impacts directly on our cash flow,” adds Mike. “If documents can’t be found then we hit delays in being paid and there are cost implications for our customers too who incur delivery and labour charges whilst the query is being resolved.”
Mike and his team conducted a rigorous search of the market for a document management vendor with strong Workflow and Archive products and expertise. EASY SOFTWARE was selected in favour of 6 other contenders and work began to scan the backlog of paper documents, promising to make document management EASY.
MSC outsourced the task of scanning the paper files and documents whilst the team concentrated on automating the processes and workings of the import department. “This was a real challenge,” Mike explains. “Things are done a certain way for historical reasons, personal preferences and because paper is involved. Simply logging and identifying those processes and flows so that we could then map them electronically was a huge undertaking so we designed an outline workflow which has since gone through several iterations.”
EASY’s design and technical team worked closely with MSC’s focus groups advising and recommending and modifying the workflows and business triggers. An interface to MSC’s Link system was produced so that the EASY Workflow system could read the Manifest which is produced electronically by Link, and from that data a job file is produced. A combination of electronic and paper client documents are pulled together and all made available electronically, managed by the workflow system.
To make the task more manageable and to reduce disruption to the business, the team focused on two trade routes first and secured user and business confidence in that before applying the system to the remaining 26 trades.
“This has been a huge journey for everyone involved, and although it seemed at times like we had taken on an impossible task, we are now firm converts to the benefits and efficiencies that the automated workflow, document capture and archive have delivered to MSC. It is inconceivable that we could ever return to a manual system and processes now that we have tasted the benefits of the EASY system.”
NOT ALL PLAIN SAILING
Mike admits that the journey was not altogether smooth. “There have been issues with the system along the way and user confidence dipped periodically as a result, but the important thing is that we collaborated with EASY to find a resolution. This is a business critical system and the impact of it not working or going down at any time is immense.
The EASY team recognises the cost and disruption that any downtime causes and has increased its response times and service levels as a result. We simply couldn’t operate without it.”
MSC now has a system that they are empowered to modify, that offers an audit trail and traceability of vital documents and tasks and that has significantly improved service levels and operational efficiency. “We have been able to redeploy staff to customer facing roles, our working environment is much improved with less paper and clutter, desks are clean and customer queries are being handled quicker and more efficiently. This all impacts on improved cash flow, improved key performance indicators and enabling us to grow the business on an annual compound rate of 10%.
Thanks to the success in both the Import and Finance Departments, MSC has already begun the next phase of its document and workflow automation, this time in the Export department. Outline workflows are underway for two trade routes in the Export department and it is expected to begin live testing once MSC’s new booking system, Link 9 is launched sometime in March. EASY is now firmly embedded in MSC and is instrumental to the smooth running of the Import department. According to Mike, “We have come a long way in understanding how best to automate our Import business using workflow and document management software and we are ready to apply that knowledge and expertise to deliver the same benefits to our Export division.”