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New LTL eBOL standard established in attempt to hasten supply chain efficiency

New LTL eBOL standard established in attempt to hasten supply chain efficiency

Shippers and less-than-truckload (LTL) carriers have a new tool to speed their invoices through the electronic bill of lading pipeline.

The Digital LTL Council of the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA) has established a new standard for Electronic Bills of Lading (eBOL). It is part of what the Digital LTL Council calls its “crucial efforts to advance digitization of the industry in order to improve supply chain efficiency.”

The new standard is the latest attempt by leading LTL carriers to adopt a single standard that will hopefully replace the multitude of conflicting and confusing digital platforms that shippers, carriers and 3PLs have used—and complained about—for decades.

The LTL industry long has been accused of lagging behind other modes of freight transport in adoption of digital technology. This is a move to try and eliminate that stigma.

The Digital LTL Council is now asking its members to pledge adoption of the standard by July 2023. Nearly 30 LTL carriers and logistics companies already have signed onto the new standard.

“The eBOL standard is critical in helping the industry improve overall efficiency and operational excellence,” said Geoff Muessig, chief marketing officer and executive vice president of Pitt Ohio. Muessig is also chairman of the Digital LTL Council. “As companies in the industry pledge adoption of this standard, we know the overall impact will be a major step forward for the industry and those we partner with and serve.”

In an interview, Muessig said the hope now is to attract large-volume LTL shippers who can justify the investment in the application programming interface (API) format that will support the standardized platform. The hope is to create more efficiency for carriers, who then will reward shippers with lower rates for using the platform.

“Most of the cost savings benefits associated with digitization of the bill of lading accrue to carriers and 3PLs,” Muessig said.

He added that on-time delivery service for shippers and their customers will improve when carriers no longer need to manually transfer information from paper bills of lading into a digital format.

“LTL carrier and 3PL shipment activity exceed 30% of the total market. Over time it stands to reason that LTL carriers will provide the best in class pricing terms to 3PLs and shippers that make use of digital bills of lading,” Muessig added.

While other eBOL standards have been developed for the industry, the Digital LTL Council says its standard is distinct in several ways. First is its ability to reduce costs and errors. It also improves service and communication across the supply chain via better visibility. That helps improve overall supply chain efficiency and secure the industry through contactless/paperless transactions.

Member companies are being asked to commit to the following pledge in adopting the standard:

“Whereas digitization is critically important for the elevation of the LTL freight industry, and the NMFTA and its Digital LTL Council have worked to facilitate collaboration, automation, standardization and digitization—for the reduction of paper flow and overall better communication across the LTL industry—I recognize the importance of implementing an electronic bill of lading (eBOL) to achieve the highest levels of shipment outcomes and accurate invoicing, and pledge to develop and fully operationalize the eBOL with at least one business partner or 3PL, starting no later than July 20, 2023.”

Early adoption has been strong. The following companies have already taken the pledge: AAA Cooper Transportation, Averitt Express, Banyan Technologies, BlueGrace Logistics, Carrier Logistics, C.H. Robinson, Dayton Freight Lines, Dependable Highway Express, Dohrn Transfer Co., Echo Global Logistics, Estes Express Lines, KDL Logistics, Koch Logistics, Midwest Motor Freight, Old Dominion Freight Line, project 44 (p44), Peninsula Truck Lines, Pitt Ohio, Polaris Transportation, Ross Express, Saia LTL Freight, SMC³, Southeastern Freight Lines, Total Quality Logistics, U.S. Special Delivery, Ward Transport & Logistics, Worldwide Express, XPO, and Yellow.

According to Paul Dugent, executive director of the Digital LTL Council, the standard is the result of a sustained team effort by industry leaders and NMFTA staff.

 “We have worked two years to develop this standard because we recognize the impact it will have on our industry and its partners and customers,” Dugent said in a statement. “As we move toward widespread adoption, we are confident the benefits will also be widespread throughout the industry.”

The new standard represents a unified move forward for an industry committed to digital excellence and determined to convert that principle into policy and action.

“Everyone understands the importance of cybersecurity and other best practices in the digital space,” said Debbie Sparks, executive director of NMFTA, in a statement.

“The standard we have developed here helps member organizations implement these practices structurally into their organizations in a cohesive and actionable way,” Sparks added. “This is consistent with the vision of the organization, to facilitate such progress for the entire industry.”

Chicago-based project44 (P44) and a diverse group of industry executives formed the Digital LTL Council in November 2019 with the intent to advance the full digitization of the LTL industry. NMFTA became the LTL Digital Council’s lead sponsor last June to bring industry expertise, dedicated resources, marketing and legal support—in addition to the financial resources needed to accelerate the Council’s work.

To sign the pledge and download the new eBOL API, shippers are encouraged to visit online at:  https://nmfta.org/digital-standards-development/.

About the Author

John D. Schulz

John D. Schulz has been a transportation journalist for more than 20 years, specializing in the trucking industry. John is on a first-name basis with scores of top-level trucking executives who are able to give shippers their latest insights on the industry on a regular basis.

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