To close Jump Start 2020, panelists discuss bill of lading digitization and other freight transportation technology challenges

It seems like stakeholders in the over-the-road freight transportation industry have been talking about the digitization of the bill of lading for a number of years. On the final day of the Jump Start 2020 supply chain conference, conversation once again turned to transportation technology and transferring bill of lading information electronically.

PITT OHIO’s Geoff Muessig joined C.H. Robinson’s Greg West and Angelo Ventrone of Uline for a morning panel that aimed to dissect the current state of bill of lading digitization.

Muessig told the audience that there’s an internal effort to push information toward the digital side of things, but he said that currently only about 10 percent of the company’s bills are transferred electronically. The goal is 80 percent.

“We have a strong effort out there to encourage our customer base to move from paper bills of lading to digital bills of lading,” he said. “It’s been a challenge, in some ways; I think people recognize the importance of getting there.”

This aspirational aspect seems to reverberate to carriers throughout the industry.

“We’re making progress,” West said of the supply chain arena as a whole, “but we’re not where we want to be. When we talk to a lot of shippers, the idea of an electronic bill of lading, for them, is a resource issue.”

West said the larger shippers have an advantage, resource wise, so they might be more likely to move toward digitization before smaller organizations.

“That’s where you see some of those gaps,” he added.

Ventrone told the audience that they work with more than 55 LTL providers, and they all have a different platform, each with different digitization requirements, but he knows that beyond those 55, many carriers don’t seem to realize the need for digitization.

“That’s the challenge we face – all the different attitudes from different carriers and just trying to get them to understand the importance of this,” he said.  

One part of that journey toward digitization is developing a set of best practices for data. Muessig said guidelines are currently being developed, but “it’s going to be a journey.”

He added, “We have so much more to gain if we can collaborate.”

During the last session of the conference, which covered e-commerce, the panel quickly devolved to toilet talk – literally. While speaking about the difficulties of residential delivery logistics, William Strang of TOTO USA told the audience how his company’s latest toilet seat model has been flying off the digital shelves – especially as a much-coveted Christmas gift. But if current consumers have to pay to send the toilet seat from the warehouse to their homes, that might be beyond the pale.

“They expect delivery to be free,” Strang said. “And so we have to make sure when we partner with somebody that they can actually effectuate that delivery.” He added that shipping 110-pound, porcelain toilets just further complicates the shipping process. “They break rather easily…that’s challenging us to develop a packaging methodology that is e-commerce friendly.”   

Averitt’s Chris Thacker told the audience that e-commerce deliveries, and everything that delivery entails, is an extension of the product purchased. Consumers value the entire experience and will weigh the shipping process when selecting e-commerce goods.  

“When you make a delivery to a residence,” he said, “any poor experience – it’s just personal.”

The three-day supply chain conference Jump Start 2020 was held this year at the Renaissance Atlanta Waverly hotel. SMC³’s next educational event is Connections 2020 in Boston, M.A., June 15 – 17.

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