Sanjay K Reddy
Vice President & General Manager
Transportation & Logistics

COVID-19 has forced the business world to find new ways of working that limit human contact and face-to-face interactions. This creates a challenge for the less-than-truckload (LTL) industry, as the industry relies on people physically exchanging cargo and the associated paperwork.

Every delivery made by LTL companies involves a bill of lading (BOL) and delivery paperwork. These essential documents serve as contracts between shippers and carriers, defining what’s being carried and where it’s going. BOLs are exchanged multiple times throughout this process, going from shipper to driver, driver to the consignee for signature and back, and then from the driver to the person responsible for scanning shipments at the terminal.

Each of these interactions involving a physical BOL presents a risk for one person potentially infecting another. Finding ways to reduce this risk needs to be an essential priority for the LTL Industry. Additionally, paper BOLs have caused multiple issues for LTL companies even before the current COVID-19 pandemic. Carriers don’t always get the shipment details contained in a BOL far enough in advance to optimally plan their equipment and routes, supply chains become hard to track, and errors and delays in manually entering BOLs into systems cause downstream collections and cash flow issues. The pandemic could be the catalyst that drives the much needed widespread adoption of digitization within the LTL industry.

Switching from paper to electronic BOLs (eBOL) would go far in solving the virus transmission challenge as well as the business issues stemming from the physical exchange of this paperwork. Switching to eBOLs would provide carriers not only with more advanced notice for shipments but cut down on the physical interactions required between every party involved in a transaction. This is not a far-fetched idea, as the parcel industry almost exclusively uses digital shipping documents. Now, it’s time for the LTL industry to catch up.

Technologies currently exist that can speed up the implementation of eBOLs. Integrated imaging software that enables custom forms and digitized workflows, combined with electronic signatures, can provide the necessary components for the paperless movement of freight.

LTL carriers should partner with shippers in this process, either individually or through Industry bodies, and drive the adoption of eBOLs. Adopting eBOLs will not only cut down on the required physical interactions that can potentially transmit viruses like COVID-19, but also solve longstanding issues faced by the LTL industry.

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