Better Service, Lower Cost – the LTL Electronic Bill of Lading
Authored by SMC³ on April 18, 2023
Future Proofing Your Shipment Lifecycle with Electronic Bills of Lading
Anyone who has shipped freight knows paperwork continues to play a big role in the LTL shipping process. The bill of lading (BOL) carries significant importance to all parties in the supply chain – shipper, consignee, carrier and 3PL. It contains the shipment’s origin and destination addresses, freight details, services requested by the freight owner, and other critical identifiers such as hazardous materials. In short, the bill of lading contains information the carrier needs to transport the goods in a timely and safe manner.
Once completed, bill of lading details live within the carrier’s freight management systems. When a shipment is tendered using a paper bill of lading, the details are manually entered, inviting errors. These errors can mean lost time and potential added costs. For example, address errors can result in misloading of freight and incorrect routing. This leads to delivery delays and higher risk of damage due to additional freight handling.
Billing accuracy and invoice errors also occur due to challenges matching accounts to pricing agreements or freight reweighs and reclassification due to commodity description and classification transcription errors. It’s frustrating when a freight invoice doesn’t match the original paper bill of lading, and it can lead to disputes and payment delays.
Digital Progress in the Making
System to system communication is the solution to minimizing these issues. Carriers have invested in building API web services to facilitate the transfer of the required bill of lading information from the shipper’s system to the carrier’s system.
This is huge progress for the LTL industry and will substantially improve supply chain efficiency and operations moving forward. Carriers and shippers can expect to experience several benefits by implementing the electronic bill of lading (eBOL) API:
Fewer Invoice Errors
Electronically transmitting the information on the bill of lading from the shipper’s transportation management system (TMS) directly to the carrier’s management system dramatically reduces the potential for human error. Digitizing the bill of lading leads to fewer classification and invoice issues down the road. This digitization adds up to a better customer experience and accurate billing.
To be successfully submitted, pre-programmed eBOLs require specific information such as density, classification, and dimensional specifications. This ensures carriers have the information they need to transport freight while shippers receive final invoices that match the original quote.
Improved Service Performance
In addition to ensuring correct address information, there are several other ways early visibility to the complete, accurate freight characteristics assist with carrier service performance.
For example, communicating the freight characteristics to the carrier digitally enables the carrier to ensure they have the proper equipment and capacity to complete the pickup the first time. Additionally, the carrier can begin planning the linehaul routing when they have visibility to the freight characteristics before the freight hits the origin dock.
One Unified Standard in an Eco-friendly Sustainability Initiative
With an eBOL platform built around one unified standard, shippers, LSPs, and carriers can use it across the LTL industry to increase productivity and develop more value-based, strategic relationships. Additionally, the eBOL plays a role in promoting sustainability during a time of large-scale corporate initiatives and measures around removing paper from processes.
Cost Savings for Shippers and Carriers
The Digital LTL Council published an article in [November/2020] that states shippers can expect to see an average of two to four percent cost savings per shipment once widespread adoption of eBOL occurs. These savings will come from greater network efficiency and on-time performance, improved carrier performance, decreased dwell times, reduced safety stock levels, and better worker efficiency.
Carriers estimate a 1.3% savings to current costs due to the elimination of some administrative, bill entry, and customer service tasks. Industry-wide, this could potentially add up to $470 million in savings. eBOLs will provide information more quickly to carriers, allowing them to plan operations in advance and optimize networks. Lower costs to serve will benefit all stakeholders across the LTL industry.
It’s Time to Adopt a Digital Bill of Lading
Getting to this point—where electronic bills of lading have progressed from a promising concept to a full reality—required collaboration among all LTL transportation ecosystem stakeholders. The Digital LTL Council was the launching pad from which carriers, logistics service providers, shippers, and technology providers initiated a set of uniform standards to guide scalable automation and digitization of LTL shipments.
The next step is to adopt eBOL. It will require widespread acceptance by the LTL industry to reap its full benefits. Let’s reflect on how far our industry has come—and envision where this game-changing digitization technology will take us in the near future.
If you are ready to learn more about how SMC³ LTL APIs can partner with you to achieve eBOL adoption and automate your entire shipment lifecycle, visit: https://www.smc3.com/ltl-api/.