Digitalisation in shipping – mass adoption of eBLs in 2021

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MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) is a global leader in transportation and logistics. The family-based company calls at 500 ports on 215+ trade routes, carrying some 21,5 million TEU (twenty-foot equivalent units) annually, via a modern fleet, equipped with the latest green technologies. MSC is pioneering digitalisation in the container shipping industry and will soon be launching a global campaign to achieve greater adoption of the electronic version of the Bill of Lading (eBL), the most important document in international trade.

André Simha is Chief Digital & Information Officer for MSC and Chairman of the Supervisory Board for the Digital Container Shipping Association (DCSA).  His guiding principle is to explore how the latest technologies, such as blockchain, IoT and smart containers, can improve efficiency, increase simplicity and drive value in the shipping industry.

Traditionally, the shipping industry has relied heavily on physical, paper-based documents and their delivery across the globe. MSC is progressively introducing the eBL for its customers at many locations around the world. The company uses secure blockchain technology on an independent platform to manage the digital transfer of the document.

André Simha, Global Chief Digital & Information Officer at MSC believes that digital collaboration is vital to the evolution of the container shipping industry and sees enormous potential in digitising the supply chain and building collaboration around common standards. “The digital future is not about competition but about meeting demand; by 2030 industry will need to move 16 billion tonnes for an expected population of 9 billion. Digitalisation is the way forward.” In comparison, Simha said that in 2021, goods moving globally will total 11 billion tonnes for a population of 8 billion. “There is a growing need from customers to simplify the process and to move forward with more, efficiency, speed, security and sustainability as well as enhance transparency and interoperability for customers.”

The eBL enables shippers and other key stakeholders in the supply chain to receive and transmit all trade-related documents electronically, without any change or disruption to day-to-day business operations. Electronic Bills of Lading have been a subject of interest in the industry for more than 30 years and MSC is not only pushing to eliminate paper-based documents but also find ways to focus and integrate the eBL into the current workflow. “While there have been attempts to create an eBL solution within the shipping industry in the past, MSC is now in a position to introduce the digital solution that can pave the way to mass eBL adoption. The eBL presents several advantages, including the fast transfer of documents among different stakeholders; greater security, as the risks for the document to be stolen, counterfeited or lost are reduced; and no courier costs.”

Digital Container Shipping Association (DCSA), a neutral, non-profit association working toward standardisation in the container shipping noted that the costs associated with processing a paperless eBL are three times less than a traditional BL. DCSA research indicates that by achieving just 50% eBL adoption by 2030, the industry could potentially save more than USD 4 billion/year.

But more critical, said Simha, is that the industry as a whole is working together towards digitalisation. “It has taken a long time to find a suitable solution to digitise trade documents . Today, many ports have put digitalisation at the top of their agenda and interestingly, in some countries like India and China, we found that smaller ports were faster to introducing the eBL. Additionally, because of the pandemic, our eBL solution has gained traction among stakeholders such as banks.”

EBLs are not specific to any industry but there are advantages for certain sectors such as seafood and other perishables where speed is important. The shipping industry also had to deal with challenges posed by COVID-19 and eBL addresses an immediate need, enabling shippers to overcome border restrictions, interruptions in postal services and others disrupted caused by the global pandemic. Shippers can also create the possibility for employees to work remotely by dematerialising the BL.

Finally, Simha said, “we have several projects pilots, which are increasing in number, but the speed of adoption will need to accelerate for the industry to become paperless. MSC is promoting the eBL to raise awareness and demonstrate the immediate benefits for all stakeholders involved.


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