There are millions of paper bills of lading sent around the world every year. But physically moving these important trade documents between exporters, shipping agents, banks, importers and more is a complex and costly process, which takes two weeks on average. Fortunately, the electronic Bill of Lading or “eBL” now offers a more efficient and secure digital alternative.
This exciting new development took centre stage during a panel discussion on ‘Digitalisation, data and smart reefer container operations’ at the 13th Cool Logistics Global Conference, held online from 19 to 21 October 2021.
Diverse perspectives on digitalisation
In addition to MSC’s André Simha, the panel featured representatives of BRF (a shipper and MSC customer), the Co-Founder and CEO of WAVE BL (a digital solution provider) and the CEO of the Digital Container Shipping Association or DCSA (a non-profit organisation established by nine of the world’s 10 largest shipping companies, including MSC, to further digitalisation and standardisation in this sector).
The session offered participants a unique opportunity to hear about the experts’ real-life experiences at the cutting edge of shipping’s digital transformation. Below, we explore some of the highlights of their wide-ranging discussion.
A positive customer experience
As one of the world’s largest food companies, with a team of 100,000+ employees, BRF handles around 24,000 shipping documents every single month. So switching to MSC’s eBL solution, offered via the WAVE BL blockchain platform, has helped to simplify the shipping process.
“The system is very intuitive, secure and efficient,” said Fabio Poyer, Logistics Specialist, BRF. As a next step, the company would like to see more businesses joining the platform, because digitising trade depends on all parties being part of the same network.
“We need to invite everybody onboard this initiative,” explained Fabiano Luciani, Logistics Manager - Documentation, BRF. “Once all of the entities are involved, we’ll be able to see a lot of opportunities to have an efficient and smooth process for everyone.”
André Simha likened the process to paying by credit card, rather than sending a banknote or cheque by post. “We feel that the eBL is something which can really help the supply chain to be more efficient, as well as preventing issues such as delays and fraud.”
But the convenience of swiping a credit card versus writing a check doesn’t stop at the just the elimination of paper and processing delay. The banking industry has adopted standards decades ago to enable interoperability between systems so that customers can use their credit card virtually everywhere in the world. Interoperability between eBL platforms is equally essential in container shipping because shippers often do business with multiple ocean carriers who may be using different technology platforms.
By adopting the DCSA standards and implementing standards-based API for bills of lading, carriers and solution providers will enable the interoperability across platforms that delivers the best customer experience.
Improve security & control
Swapping paper-based for blockchain-based exchanges also brings benefits in terms of security, privacy and control. “Blockchain allows us to mirror paper processes without any compromise,” said Gadi Ruschin, Co-Founder and CEO of WAVE BL. “It’s naturally a very secure technology because it uses strong components such as electronic signatures.”
As digitalisation increases, we can expect to see fewer manual errors and better data quality, too. “It’s just like we’ve seen in banking: today we can sit at home doing online transfers. So why wouldn’t we do the same thing in shipping?” asked Thomas Bagge, CEO of DCSA. “There’s a huge opportunity to do this smarter, with better quality and less manual work.”
Paperless bill of lading is not just a dream: “It’s here and now”
The panel pointed out that the dematerialisation of the bill of lading is already well underway. “It’s here and now,” emphasised Gadi Ruschin. “It’s not science fiction, it’s not a pilot, it’s not in the future. Thousands of shipments are travelling in a much more efficient way, and customers are reporting enormous savings and peace of mind regarding the challenges of using paper.”
“It’s important to remember that it’s a journey and there will be bumps along the way,” noted Thomas Bagge. “But we’re not going to get anywhere if we don’t start. So let’s try and get moving on this.”
“Now we’ve come to the stage where we need to progress much faster because, in the end, everybody benefits. I think that the fact we’re collaborating really demonstrates that we’re doing this for the greater good,” concluded André Simha.
About MSC eBL
Launched in April 2021, MSC’s secure and user-friendly new eBL solution enables all parties involved in a cargo shipment booking to issue, transfer, endorse and manage the bill of lading document electronically through the Wave BL blockchain platform, without any disruption to business operations. The application is available for shippers, importers and traders of all industries and sizes worldwide and requires no additional IT infrastructure or operational change.
Existing customers across the globe have described MSC’s eBL as easy to use and convenient, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, where the eBL addresses a very current need. It enables shippers to overcome border restrictions, interruptions in postal services and other pandemic-related disruptions. It also gives shippers the ability to enable employees who work remotely by dematerialising the BL.