What is a bill of lading and why isn’t a digital format industry standard?

The bill of lading is believed to be the most important transport document in international trade: a mainstay of the global supply chain that’s present from origin to destination and critical to customs clearancefinancing and ownership of cargo.

But for as much as shipping has changed over the decades, not much about the bill of lading (BL) has. Today, it’s pretty much the same often-paper, always-time-consuming document it ever was.

That’s why driving an eBill standard is largely considered the Holy Grail of global trade. Succeed in that, and partners up and down the supply chain would benefit from the days and weeks that paper BLs add to the process as they are printed, pouched, messengered, lost, found and waited upon.

It’s ironic because there isn’t a single aspect of the BL that couldn’t be done better digitally. To demonstrate, let’s dive into the essence of these documents and the challenges that remain to making them digital.

How does an original paper bill of lading work?

Once the vessel departs, an original BL can be issued by the ocean carrier. After the shipper endorses the original bill, it is couriered to the buyer who then needs to surrender it back to the carrier at destination as part of the cargo release process.

It sounds simple enough, but along the way the BL impacts many other processes and actions. Even before issuance, the time-consuming process from a shipping instruction to the issuance of a verified BL, many iterations and changes can occur to get the BL into an approved state.  

The BL, and its critical data fields are required for customs clearance, letter of credit, change of title and other processes. One delay in any of these can result in costly extra charges.  

The functions of a bill of lading were made to be done electronically

In oftentimes convoluted international shipments, the BL is the legal go-to document that facilitates negotiation, lending and risk reduction by performing three key functions:

1. It is evidence of a contract of carriage

2. It confirms receipt of goods

3. It serves as the title to the goods

So, can eBill perform these functions while maintaining the integrity and legality that’s required? The P&I Clubs think so. Today’s top eBill solutions meet these challenges through rule frameworks and advanced security measures — all while providing significant cost and time savings.

eBills can play a pivotal role — and a digital role

Carriers issue the BL, but they rely on information from shippers which may change multiple times during the booking and shipper’s instruction processes. Electronic features like structured documents make creation, approval, distribution, tracking — everything — easier than paper.

This benefits not only the shippers but the carriers, buyers, sellers and banks without having the need to continue to print out paper — which defeats the purpose

Digital does the different types of bill of lading better

There are many types of BL, reflecting the complexities of international trade. Eliminating paper is only the beginning of the ways eBills can help streamline processes related to the two main categories of BL:

Sea Waybills are sometimes referred to as “Express Release.” They have a named consignee on them but are issued without any original documents that have to be presented for the release of the cargo. Non-negotiable and non-transferable, they are usually used in three cases:

  1. Intra-company shipments between divisions located in different countries
  2. Shipments when no negotiations take place between the seller and the consignee
  3. Instances when the shipper doesn’t have to submit an original BL to any party in order to secure their payment

Original BLs have different forms that all hinge on the issuance of original BL documents in some way.

· Order BLs are the most common type of BL. They enable delivery of the cargo to be made “To Order” to the bonafide holder of the BL. These types of BL are negotiable and often linked to letter of credit transactions. Often banks must verify and endorse the original BL before the cargo can be released to the buyer.

  • Straight BLs stipulate that the cargo may only be released to the specified consignee and only upon the surrender of an original BL.
  • Open BLs are negotiable and transferable. The name of the consignee can be changed with the consignee’s signature and transferred — often multiple times.

Going Digital assists in filling out the bill of lading

With shippers providing the majority of the information for a BL, completeness and correctness is crucial. eBills help guide the way. If shippers can provide bill of lading information digitally, there’s less risk of keying errors. Form fields and autofill features all speed the process and lead to time savings.

One of the challenges of going paperless with BLs from the very beginning is standards. Adhering to set data standards makes information useful for different parties within organizations and multiple supply chain partners and it enables seamless workflows from automation. Unfortunately, standards are far from being standard today.

Digital makes the information included in a BL more useful

Users look to the bill of lading as an infallible source of essential and comprehensive information like names and addresses, purchase orders or reference numbers, special delivery instructions, pickup date, description of items, packaging type, NMFC freight class and DOT hazmat designations.

eBills of lading can make this information highly transparent to supply chain partners who can use it. But like many of the benefits of eBills, this transparency hinges on adoption — if all the participants of the supply chain are rowing together digitally, it works. If not, it just makes for another manual process that may end up being even more work than paper.

With its centrality to supply chains and essentiality to digitizing global trade, it’s easy to understand why the industry has its sights set on digitizing this important document. But acceptance of the eBill remains both the goal and the greatest challenge today. That’s why getting the eBill to catch on will require successfully digitizing the entire process for eBills, too.

TradeLens, with its relationships with the world’s largest ocean carriers, is in a unique position to explore the digitization of this process at an unprecedented scale. Within an ecosystem where there’s already widespread acceptance, the potential of the eBill could finally be revealed. 

Source: Original article authored by Jeffrey Ivinski, 13 April 2020

Indonesian Customs – IBM’s Blockchain Supply Chain Platform

The IBM development is unarguably one of the leading bodies driving global adoption, with the development of a blockchain platform built with flexibility and ability to run on any cloudThe blockchain platform allows upcoming projects to build, operate, govern and grow blockchain solutions across any computing environment through its blockchain technological advancement.

IBM successfully introduced its TradeLens platform in partnership with the Danish transport giant, Maersk in 2018. TradeLens has recorded huge success, partnering with major organizations and government agencies across the world due to its ability to deliver services such as cross border goods shipping at a faster rate.

Blockchain taking the Centre Stage

With blockchain gaining more followers and the adoption race picking up pace, many organizations, countries, agencies, and more seem to be jumping on the blockchain train before they get left behind with IBM blockchain technology in the forefront of delivering products that are needed by upcoming blockchain projects to strive. Recent news coming from Indonesia, revealed that after several months of working towards implementing a new partner on its platforms, the Indonesian Customs and Excise Department have announced that it would make use of IBM TradeLens technology.

Indonesia’s customs department is set to be the 11th government agency to be part of the TradeLens consortium after the realization of the benefit and advantage of making use of the TradeLens platform, other countries whose custom departments have partnered with TradeLens includes Thailand, Canada, Azerbaijan, among others.

The effects of customs agency deploying IBM TradeLens technology

The company’s stated goal is to facilitate faster trade and to eliminate altogether paper-based verification processes thereby paving the way for quicker trade and customs validation

By digitizing the supply chain industry using blockchain, the country stands to boost its production potential by around fifteen percent (15%), which is a substantial figure in an industry driven by extremely thin margins

The president/director of IBM Indonesia, Tan Wijaya is optimistic that the partnership with Indonesia’s custom departments will be beneficial to all stakeholders in the entire logistics ecosystem and it will encourage the overall modernization of trade.

The company’s stated goal is to facilitate faster trade and customs verification and eliminate paper-based processes which are in line with Indonesia’s custom and excise service.

TradeLens growth

As TradeLens continues to onboard new projects and partnership with other organizations, its platforms which allows supply chain data to be immutably tracked and broadcasted using a permissioned blockchain. The company’s highlighted objectives are to facilitate faster trade and customs verification and also to eliminate completely the strenuous paper-based procedures. Other constraints include the inability to provide a comprehensive risk assessment, complex promotion, inefficient and expensive stakeholder communication, and lack of transparency. 

IBM initially launched TradeLens in partnership with Danish transport conglomerate Maersk during August, 2018. Earlier this month, Maersk estimated that approximately 10 million supply chain events are being tracked on TradeLens each week which points to how successful the platform is turning out to become.

Early February, The United States Federal Maritime Commission granted an antitrust exemption to five US-based members of the TradeLens consortium to be able to share data in regards to American supply chain events with the agreements between the five (5) parties coming into effect on 6th February,2020.

Regulators from Indonesia embrace Blockchain 

 It is worth noting that TradeLens Partnership with Indonesian custom authorities is not the first venture of the country’s positive nature towards the adoption of blockchain and its technologies.

The recent partnership announcements between TradeLens and Indonesia customs departments comes three weeks after Indonesia’s oldest cryptocurrency exchange, Indodax formerly known as bitcoin.co.id, received full license from the country’s Commodity Futures Trading Regulatory Agency (BAPPEBTI) to operate in the country.

This and other partnerships of blockchain projects in Indonesia shows that the country is primed and set to grow along with the new blockchain technologies.

Source: Alo Kingsley, Business Blockchain HQ, 7 March 2020

Trade Lens – Maersk and IBM implement their jointly developed blockchain-based solution

TradeLens

Maersk and IBM have introduced their global blockchain solution TradeLens, with 94 organizations already participating. The companies announced their joint venture in January this year after collaborating on the concept since 2016.

Early adopters include more than 20 port and terminal operators across the globe, including PSA Singapore, International Container Terminal Services Inc, Patrick Terminals, Modern Terminals in Hong Kong, Port of Halifax, Port of Rotterdam, Port of Bilbao, PortConnect, PortBase and terminal operators Holt Logistics at the Port of Philadelphia. They join the global APM Terminals’ network in piloting the solution at over 230 marine gateways worldwide.

Pacific International Lines has joined Maersk Line and Hamburg Süd as global container carriers participating. Customs authorities in the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Australia and Peru are participating, along with customs brokers Ransa and Güler & Dinamik.

Participation among beneficial cargo owners has grown to include Torre Blanca / Camposol and Umit Bisiklet. Freight forwarders, transportation and logistics companies including Agility, CEVA Logistics, DAMCO, Kotahi, PLH Trucking Company, Ancotrans and WorldWide Alliance.

TradeLens uses IBM Blockchain technology built on open standards to establish a single shared view of a transaction without compromising details, privacy or confidentiality. Shippers, shipping lines, freight forwarders, port and terminal operators, inland transportation and customs authorities can interact via real-time access to shipping data ad shipping documents, including IoT and sensor data ranging from temperature control to container weight.

Using blockchain smart contracts, TradeLens enables digital collaboration across the multiple parties involved in international trade. The trade document module, released under a beta program and called ClearWay, enables importers/exporters, customs brokers, trusted third parties such as Customs, other government agencies, and NGOs to collaborate in cross-organizational business processes and information exchanges, all backed by a secure, non-repudiable audit trail.

During a 12-month trial, Maersk and IBM worked with dozens of partners to identify opportunities to prevent delays caused by documentation errors and information delays. One example demonstrated how TradeLens can reduce the transit time of a shipment of packaging materials to a production line in the U.S. by 40 percent, avoiding thousands of dollars in cost.

Through better visibility and more efficient means of communicating, some supply chain participants estimate they could reduce the steps taken to answer basic operational questions such as “where is my container” from 10 steps and five people to, with TradeLens, one step and one person.

More than 154 million shipping events have been captured on the platform, including data such as arrival times of vessels and container “gate-in,” and documents such as customs releases, commercial invoices and bills of lading. This data is growing at a rate of close to one million events per day.

TradeLens is expected to be fully commercially available by the end of this year.

Source: Maritime Executive, original article published 2018-08-09

Maersk and IBM in joint “blockchain” venture – future of the shipping industry?

International trading involves many participants all around the globe. These participants may not necessarily have the needed trust of all parties, especially at the initial stages, when newcomers join the trade. Blockchain can provide the needed trust to capture key transaction activities as immutable records, as well as storing and sharing encrypted legal and financial documents.

Visibility of transaction records and documents are tightly controlled by blockchain, permitting sharing only among entrusted and allowed parties. In this demo, IBM demonstrates how blockchain may support such an application.

The blockchain solution being built by the two companies is expected to be made available to the ocean shipping industry later this year, according to a joint statement from International Business Machines Corp and the container unit of A.P. Moller-Maersk. It would help manage and track the paper trail of tens of millions of shipping containers globally by digitizing the supply chain process from end to end.

This will enhance transparency and make the sharing of information among trading partners more secure.

When adopted at scale, the solution based on the Linux Foundation’s open source Hyperledger platform has the potential to save the industry billions of dollars, the companies said.

“Working closely with Maersk for years, we’ve long understood the challenges facing the supply chain and logistics industry and quickly recognized the opportunity for blockchain to provide massive savings when used broadly across the ocean shipping industry ecosystem,” said Bridget van Kralingen, senior vice president, industry platforms, at IBM.

IBM and Maersk intend to work with a network of shippers, freight forwarders, ocean carriers, ports and customs authorities to build the new global trade digitization product, the companies said.

The product is also designed to help reduce or eliminate fraud and errors and minimize the time products spend in the transit and shipping process.

For instance, Maersk found that in 2014, just a simple shipment of refrigerated goods from East Africa to Europe can go through nearly 30 people and organizations, including more than 200 different communications among them.

The new blockchain solution would enable the real-time exchange of original supply chain transactions and documents through a digital infrastructure that connects the participants within the network, according to IBM and Maersk. Source: Reuters

IBM unlikely to meet Oz Customs and Immigration merger deadline – fear of system failure

ibmThe Australian Broadcast Company (ABC) has been told IBM looks increasingly unlikely to hit its October 31 deadline and there are growing fears in the Department of Immigration and Border Protection that the risk of a system failure is rising, as the busy Christmas holidays loom and a long-running industrial dispute remains unresolved.

An IT failure could have serious national security implications as the mainframe will manage Australia’s border controls, including red flagging terror suspects attempting to enter or leave the country.

In response to a series of questions from the ABC, the department issued a statement saying: “This schedule remains under active review.”

“This is common to all major system changes in which the protection of operational capability and security protections remains the overarching priority,” the statement said.

The concerns about the enterprise-wide mainframe contract come in the wake of the high profile woes of another federal agency.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics was embarrassed by a census-night shutdown, which Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull blamed on IBM.

The company is also currently embroiled in a Canadian payroll scandal, where tens of thousands of public servants have been underpaid, overpaid or not paid at all.

And that echoes the billion-dollar health payroll debacle in Queensland, after which the State Government banned its agencies from signing contracts with IBM.

Rand Corporation review of the merger between Immigration and Customs that said there was “an absence of a solid plan” for executing the integration.

Before Customs and Immigration merged in 2015, two companies had been delivering IT services — IBM for Customs; and CSC, another US information technology giant, for Immigration.

CSC lost the bid for the combined tender and was told in February that its contract would be terminated 20 months early, with the new finish date set at October 31, this year. That upped the ante on transferring enormous amounts of information between CSC-managed and IBM-managed data centres.

As that deadline approaches, fears have grown within the department that IBM is not ready and that the system might fail.

There have been meetings between IBM and officials as they war game solutions, which might include IBM hiring CSC’s workforce.

The total value through to 2019 of the mainframe contract is $509 million, and it is understood that the department does not have any more money to bolster the transition and is struggling to find the staff it needs within its own ranks to handle the change.

It is just one of many contracts IBM has with the Federal Government.

The department’s statement in response to the ABC’s questions also said it “has a robust risk management framework in place to address any potential risks that may arise from a large scale change to border systems”.

“IBM has had a long relationship with the former Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and has maintained a stable computing environment for critical border systems,” the statement said. Source: ABC