Container industry to push for electronic bill of lading adoption

The Digital Container Shipping Association (DCSA), representing carriers responsible for the majority of the world’s container volume, has announced plans to accelerate the introduction of electronic bills of lading (eBL) across the industry, aiming to reach a 50% adoption rate by 2030.

In its research into the potential benefits of moving to a digital system, DCSA has created financial models suggesting that paper-based bill processing costs the industry three times more than what would be spent using an electronic alternative.

“At a global economic growth rate of 2.4% through 2030, as forecasted by the OECD, we estimate that the industry can potentially save more than $4 billion per year if 50% eBL adoption is achieved,” DCSA says, noting that a similar initiative introducing e-Air Waybills in the aviation industry in 2010 has already surpassed adoption levels of 68%.

The Association has identified three major factors it believes will influence the move towards digital documentation.

One of these is the availability of suitable technology to guarantee the integrity and uniqueness of the eBL, where it suggests distributed ledger technology (DLT) and blockchain may offer a potential solution.

Another factor is acceptance of new document types by government authorities, banks and insurers, which to date have often lacked provisions for an electronic form. Nevertheless, DCSA believes progress is eminently possible in this area, and notes that the insurance industry in particular has shown increasing interest, with six members of the International Group of P&I Clubs (IGP&I) having approved eBL system providers to date.

The third key factor identified by DCSA is the need for open collaboration in the industry, to create data models and transmission standards that can be widely accepted and adopted, regardless of pre-existing relationships between stakeholders.

“Digital standards will enable interoperability between all stakeholders, such as system providers, shippers, carriers, banks and regulators. Different parties can be involved in a transaction as long as they have implemented the standards. Once a standard eBL is available, it will also be easier for regulators, banks and insurers to accept the eBL as a viable alternative to a paper BL,” DCSA says.

To begin work towards achieving its eBL goals, DCSA intends to launch an initiative to enable the open collaboration necessary for achieving full eBL adoption. This will include development of open source standards for necessary legal terms and conditions, as well as definitions and terminology to facilitate communication among customers, container carriers, regulators, financial institutions and other industry stakeholders.

As such, the Association is inviting those involved in the transport and logistics sector that are working on eBL projects, or feel they can contribute to the process, to get in touch and become involved in its collaboration efforts.

“DCSA’s mission is to drive alignment and digital standardisation to enable transparent, reliable, easy to use, secure and environmentally friendly container transportation services. Digitising documentation, starting with the bill of lading, is key to the simplification and digitisation of global trade,” said Thomas Bagge, CEO of DCSA.

“The transformation that has taken place in the airline industry is an example of what’s possible if we work together. The e-AWB is now the norm rather than the exception among air carriers. We invite industry stakeholders to work with us to create standards that will make the eBL maximally useful and relevant for ensuring their goods are delivered safely and seamlessly to their final destination.”

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Rob O'Dwyer

Rob is Chief Network Officer and one of the founders of Smart Maritime Network. He also serves as Chairman of the Smart Maritime Council. Rob has worked in the maritime technology sector since 2005, managing editorial for a range of leading publications in the transport and logistics sector. Get in touch by email by clicking here, or on LinkedIn by clicking here.

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