Electronic consignment notes, also called “e-CMR”, are used in more and more countries. This emerging tool lowers costs and speeds up the billing and administrative aspects of shipping.
In preparation for this article, I watched dozens of YouTube videos of truck drivers talking about their work. The truck and its comfort level, the working hours, waiting to load/unload, client relations, traffic accidents, rudeness, and eating habits are major topics. But no one ever talks about writing the document implementing the shipping agreement between the parties! European truck drivers don’t seem to be passionate about writing consignment letters or CMR documents...
A tedious task
It’s true that filling the paperwork is tedious. A shipping address has a name, a street number, a street name, a city, a zip code, and a country, so that’s already 6 elements to write out.
If you add to this list the other addresses, the detailed description of the goods, the dates and times of departure and arrival, it all adds up to about 70 elements to fill out. Without forgetting to apply enough pressure with the pen... because all carbon copies, including the 4th one, need to be legible.
Each sheet will be stamped and continue its life with the sender, recipient, carrier, etc. It will most likely be archived, alongside many fellow pieces of paper.
An opportunity to digitize the process
And yet, the letter of consignment is the proof that the shipping service took place, and often triggers the billing process. Reservations voiced upon departure or arrival are generally the only reason to contest the document. In brief, there is a major gap between the legal and administrative value of the letter of consignment, and the way it is perceived operationally and practically by the truck driver.
When looking at this issue from the driver’s perspective, this opens an opportunity for digitizing this process. Creating partially filled shipping contracts (including addresses, times, information about the goods, and the billing) would ease the drivers’ work and save them time so they can focus on controlling the goods.
However, this argument is seldom used by the proponents of e-CMR. They usually focus on cost reductions (it is between 3 and 4 times cheaper) stemming from increased administrative productivity and digital archiving, and on the increased efficiency created by the use of real time technology, which eases information sharing and billing.
Players are still unsure about moving forward
However, there are a few disadvantages to e-CMR, showing this tool is still a work in progress: players who haven’t yet chosen to use it are waiting to be sure that e-CMR is the right solution before diving in.
Firstly, not every European country has signed the protocol: Germany for example has been toying with the idea since 2008, and has launched a pilot program with the Czech Republic, Romania, Greece, and Serbia. But with only one German carrier participating in the program, the results are unlikely to provide a good representation of this tool’s potential.
Secondly, to electronically validate documents, the driver, sender, and recipient must have the appropriate digital equipment. This requirement could be foregone if the driver uses a smartphone with an on-screen signature tool, but this procedure is not planned for in the ratified additional protocol.
- The protocol is being ratified by more and more countries, and we see an increase in the number of pilot programs;
- E-CMR frees drivers of low value add tasks, which are often perceived as a negative aspect of the work, so this is one of the positive aspects of digitizing the shipping industry;
- Implementing e-CMR implies standardizing, adding transparency to, and accelerating administrative processes, which in turn will make the shipping industry much smoother;
- Considering all of this, e-CMR could become the cornerstone of shipping line digitization and make a strong contribution to reforming and modernizing European supply chains.