This article gives both sides of a discussion on the importance and readiness of the maritime and shipping industries for an electronic bill of lading.
One point made in the article by forwarders is that in the present market, changes are occurring so frequently that the bills of lading have to change frequently. The changes are happening because the congestion and resilience or lack of it currently in many supply chains is forcing frequent revisions of transport plans. That forces eBL revision, since the exactness of the details of transport is essential in building a valid eBL.
But it’s always been the case that digitalization or automation requires a change in the manual or human procedures surrounding the creation of information. Those who are naysayers need to face up to the fact that a ‘draft’ eBL needs to become the standard of creation of an order for transport. That’s true if you’re a carrier, a shipper, a forwarder, ora 3PL.
It means that every system for booking shipments needs to transition to use of the eBL as THE document defining the offer. No participant will be able to afford to have their own forms for creating or ordering a shipment. That is going to be a challenge for the myriad systems brokers and shippers use. Each of them must be forced to include the eBL structure in their system, and make it the ONLY way orders are drafted and contracted for.
That’s not quite as bad as it seems. Once the system has the ability to draft the eBL for a shipment, many of them can be prepared in advance. For instance for a customer that regularly books shipments of specific goods, the eBL can be prepared in advance as a draft, and only needs human and system interaction for approval. We know from many years of practice implementing systems that draft information can be tuned by the computer to match most of the required patterns for most shipments, so
Brokers who are concerned about constant churning of eBL information can take heart; using pre-prepared standard eBLs will eliminate 80% of the job or so; the exceptions are a lot fewer than they think.
What that also means, however, is the job of booking an order changes. The customer service agent has a lot less paperwork to do, and that may in her view reduce her ‘importance’ to the shipper and the process. They lose status and the opportunity they had in the past to influence and relate to the shipper. That might be their fear.
However, they should not fear. It’s well understood from previous system implementations in many areas from payrolls to HR to ERP and many more areas, for at least 4 decades. The job changes, and opens up many more opportunities for sales reps to be of actual use to their clients by removing the burden of paperwork. And the change is from a repetitive operation to an exception handling process.
Shipping sales rep may well become a job that requires a different type of person from the incumbents; but that should not be a reason to avoid doing it. It means retraining incumbents or encouraging them to move on to a job they are more comfortable in.
The eBL standard development and acceptance process will be key over the next few years. The faster it can happen, the better.