For the first time in its 100-year history, the less-than-truckload industry has a standard format for electronically transmitting bills of lading (BOL).

The new eBOL standard was announced Monday by the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA), an LTL advocacy group that oversees industry pricing and protocols. The single standard will, over time, replace the multitude of digital platforms that shippers, carriers and 3PLs have used over the years, according to NMFTA’s Digital LTL Council, the group that spearheaded the three-year effort.

According to the council, the new standard will reduce costs and errors and improve communication and service. With one digital format in place, BOL data will be exchanged hours earlier than before, and the information will be more accurate and concise than it has been in the past, said Geoff Muessig, chief marketing officer and vice president of regional LTL carrier Pitt Ohio and chairman of the council.

According to the council, 29 providers, including carriers, 3PLs, freight brokers and technology firms, have pledged to be fully operational under the new standard no later than next July 20. The early adopters represent a large chunk of market share in the highly concentrated $85 billion-a-year LTL industry.

The next phase in the project is to on-board large LTL shippers whose volumes can justify the investment in the application programming interface (API) format that will support the standardized platform. Smaller shippers will generally not have the volumes to justify the investment, according to Muessig.

Large shippers will realize that by migrating to a digital system that promises increased efficiencies for carriers, they will likely be rewarded with best-in-class pricing, Muessig said.

The LTL industry lags all freight transport modes in adoption of digital technology. Industry advocates have said there are huge opportunities for cost savings and service improvements by reducing its long reliance on paper flow in favor of digitization.

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