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Digital Container Shipping Association helping shape paperless trade

Standards shared for electronic bills of lading in ocean shipping

Thomas Bagge is CEO of DCSA, which is driving for digitization among ocean carriers. (Photos: DCSA and Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

The Digital Container Shipping Association on Tuesday published standards for electronic bills of lading for ocean-moved goods. 

DCSA is a neutral nonprofit made up of nine ocean carriers — MSC, Maersk, CMA CGM, Hapag-Lloyd, ONE, Evergreen, Yang Ming, HMM and ZIM — to further digitization of container shipping.

“Digitizing documentation, starting with the bill of lading, is key to the simplification and digitalization of global trade,” said DCSA CEO Thomas Bagge. “The alignment we’ve achieved among the carriers is a critical milestone on the way to full [e-BOL] adoption. 

“Paperless trade will benefit all parties involved in a transaction in terms of cost reduction, customer experience, efficiency, growth, innovation and sustainability,” Bagge said. 

Amsterdam-headquartered DCSA said the e-BOL standards are aligned with the United Nations Center for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business multimodal transport reference data model to ensure a global industry framework that accelerates digitization through a unified industry effort.

“The COVID pandemic has brought more urgency to the shift towards digitalization of the global trade environment,” said Oswald Kuyler, managing director of the digital standards initiative at the International Chamber of Commerce, in a statement. “Achieving a standardized [e-BOL] is a foundational element of that transformation.” 

Bagge told American Shipper that interoperability is vital.

“The reason we need a standard e-BOL is the same reason we need to have interoperability between email systems, between Macs and PCs, and between mobile networks around the globe,” he said. “Some of us are old enough to remember not being able to use our mobile phones when we traveled from Europe to the U.S. due to the lack of standards.”

Bagge said the DCSA standards provide common data definitions and elements for the e-BOL. 

“Until now, carriers have used their own proprietary bill of lading,” he said. “Standardization allows industry stakeholders to align on the process of digitizing documentation and is the first step to enabling system interoperability.”

Bagge said DCSA doesn’t expect widespread adoption overnight.

“This is a multiyear process to get buy-in across the industry and provide help such as the API definitions DCSA plans to publish for the e-BOL standards in January,” he said. “While the adoption time frame needs to come directly from our members and industry stakeholders, we have seen a rapid increase in interest and acceptance for e-BOLs in 2020 due to the COVID pandemic.”

Bagge noted that the International Air Transport Association introduced e-air waybills in 2010 and that adoption of their use is now at over 68%. “If we start on standardizing e-BOLs now, we have reason to believe a 50% adoption rate is feasible by 2030.”

This is the first publication as part of DCSA’s e-documentation initiative that will deliver standards to enable digitization of end-to-end container shipping documentation. 

“Digitalization and standardization will improve communication, coordination and planning across different parties, which will contribute to reducing unnecessary delays and [port] congestion,” Bagge said. “Specifically, the e-BOL will ultimately enable Customs to clear cargo when the cargo departs its port of origin. This will mean a lot of time saved waiting for Customs to clear cargo of large container vessels and will reduce lead times.”

The DCSA e-BOL publication consists of the Standard for the Bill of Lading 1.0, Industry Blueprint 3.0 and Information Model 3.0. All are available now to download for free on the DCSA website. A DCSA Interface Standard for the Bill of Lading will be available for download in January. 

The e-BOL push is the latest initiative launched by DCSA. In July, it tackled ship-related information transparency with the publication of standards for the exchange of operational vessel schedules. In June, DCSA published what it said were the first Internet of Things connectivity interface standards for shipping containers. 

The e-BOL guidance is the first DCSA standard to be eligible for self-certification under a new DCSA compliance program, which will be launched in January. Any organization that implements the e-BOL standard may demonstrate compliance by completing a self-certification checklist. 

DCSA will schedule webinars in January to provide more information about the e-BOL standards. 

Bagge said there’s more to come from DCSA next year.

“We have several initiatives that will continue to produce additional standards and framework for interoperability in 2021,” he said. “Some highlights include e-documentation; IoT for additional use cases; the just-in-time port call, where we are actively inviting ports and terminals to test the standards; and data and interface standards for cargo operations such as empty handling.”

Looking back, Bagge said he was “especially proud” of the progress DCSA has made in three areas:

• “Active, committed collaboration among nine of the top 10 ocean carriers to drive digital standards for the benefit of the industry, despite the disruption and challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

• “Eight major standards publications in a year and a half to address some of the most important digitalization needs in container shipping.

• “The support and interest we’ve received from many segments of the industry for our digital standardization work, which is key to driving standards adoption.”

DCSA launches another drive for information sharing

DCSA provides education on ‘smart containers’

Shipping group promotes standardized e-bill of lading

Click for more American Shipper/FreightWaves stories by Senior Editor Kim Link-Wills.

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Kim Link Wills

Senior Editor Kim Link-Wills has written about everything from agriculture as a reporter for Illinois Agri-News to zoology as editor of the Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine. Her work has garnered awards from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Magazine Association of the Southeast. Prior to serving as managing editor of American Shipper, Kim spent more than four years with XPO Logistics.