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From paper trails to digital highways: A practical guide for modernising warehouse operations.

Welcome to the digital gateway of transformation! Our Whitepaper, “From Paper Trails to Digital Highways: A Practical Guide for Modernizing Warehouse Operations,” is your compass on the journey to optimizing your distribution processes. Discover how automation and technology can revolutionise your warehouse operations and propelling your business toward greater success in the digital age.



Despite widespread digital transformation in distribution, it’s not unusual for companies to still be using paper-based systems. Not only are they inexpensive and simple to operate, but most companies will also typically begin with a paper-based system. These systems are familiar and practical and employees are reluctant to move away from them.

This inertia can prevent companies from undertaking improvement projects in the warehouse, even though there are clear benefits of doing so. Automation is often seen as unnecessarily disruptive, difficult to implement and costly. After all, if the paper system works, why break it?

But the fact is, when you look more closely, for most distribution operations, paper-based systems simply don’t work. They certainly don’t work in terms of optimising worker productivity, enhancing efficiency, streamlining order fulfilment or boosting sales and profit. They can inhibit a company’s ability to reach its full potential, preventing it from growing and competing in an increasingly digital world.

For all distribution operations, there comes a time when the paper system becomes unwieldy. There are too many SKUs to handle, stock cannot be easily located for picking and staff become overworked and inefficient. Using a paper system to manage a warehouse when it gets to this stage has impacts in terms of costs, time and accuracy.

Implementing automation – by using a warehouse management system (WMS) – eliminates these problems and allows a company to achieve greater productivity and efficiency, which ultimately leads to greater profitability.

The actual transition from paper-based operations to using a WMS needs careful and thorough management so that the benefits can be properly realised.

This guide points out the drawbacks of paper-based systems, explains how a WMS can benefit you and has a step-by-step guide you can follow to help you manage the process.

1. An overview of paper-based warehouse systems.


In the not-so-distant past, paper was the backbone of all warehousing. From tracking stock levels and bin locations to order picking and processing, everything was done manually.

It wasn’t until 2018 that a well-known annual survey of US warehouses found that the use of paper-based systems had finally fallen below 50% for the first time. But there are still a very large number of warehouses that rely on paper-based systems.

For warehouses that use physical documents and manual processes, these would be the typical procedures followed.

Order receipt and verification.

The order is received, either electronically or physically. Details like the customer’s name, address, item numbers, quantities, shipping instructions and payment information are captured. This may be done automatically if the company has an ecommerce website, but the information may need to be manually keyed into an order management system or a spreadsheet.

If necessary, the order is reconciled against a purchase order. This may involve it being printed before being verified. An employee will cross-check that the information is right, before tick individual lines to confirm and possibly also signing the order.

Order processing.

The order is printed and sent to the warehouse. Along with the paper picking list, which details the items and their locations, there may be a paper packing slip, for adding into the customer’s order.


The picker uses the picking list to go to the locations of the items to be picked, marking off each item on the list as it is picked.


The picked items are taken to a packing station. Each item is again checked against the order to ensure accuracy. The order, along with the packing slip, is packaged for shipment.

Shipping preparation.

The packaged order may need to be weighed to determine the relevant shipping carrier or costs. A shipping label is printed and added. If the warehouse is truly manual, this label may be completed by hand.


The packaged order is placed in the shipping area to await collection by the internal driver or shipping provider. Shipping information is manually recorded against the order and a paper manifest of the shipping documentation is printed for each carrier.


The original order is marked as shipped and any associated payment and shipping details are noted. Copies of the order, picking slip and any shipping documents are filed for record-keeping. This is essential for tracking the order, processing returns and for audits.

Record updates.

The inventory records are updated manually to show that the items have been taken from stock. The order management system or spreadsheet is also updated to detail what products a customer has ordered and when.

2. The challenges of paper-based warehouse systems.


These sorts of paper-based warehousing processes are prone to errors, inefficiencies, delays and customer dissatisfaction. Small and medium sized warehouses tend to persist with paper due to fears about the costs and disruption of automation. The perceived challenges of transitioning to a new and unknown system, the time needed to retrain staff and the need for wholesale organisational change can mean they defer the decision to automate – or reject it completely.

However, using paper is beset with a number of critical problems and challenges that can negatively impact warehouse processes. Here are some of the common issues with paper-based warehousing.

Errors and inaccuracies.

Paper-based systems are prone to errors. The data may have been entered incorrectly in the first place. For example, the wrong stock location on a picking sheet would cause a picker to take an unnecessary detour when finding goods for an order.

Or it may be difficult to decipher someone’s handwriting, resulting in the wrong quantity of items being despatched.

Lost or misplaced documents can completely sabotage a pick run or an order, resulting in delays and frustration.

Inefficient stock management.

Lack of real-time data causes inefficiencies in stock management and incorrect order fulfilment.

A mistake where a worker fails to manually update inventory levels after making a pick can mean…


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