At MacGregor Partners, we believe eBOL is just the beginning. It’s the first step towards digital transformation with new warehouse operations objectives like a guardless gate, digital shipping documents, a frictionless driver experience, and becoming a shipper of choice. Some shippers are moving rapidly in that direction, but some facilities aren’t ready to be fully automated or 100% digital, and some carriers and drivers may still require a printed bill of lading. With such a wide chasm between organizations currently benefiting from eBOL and those dependent on paper bills of lading, it is helpful to start at the beginning so here is a bill of lading primer with everything you ever wanted to know about BOLs and eBOLs.
What is a bill of lading?
A bill of lading is a legal document issued by the shipper to the carrier detailing a shipment of goods including type, quantity, and destination of the goods being carried. The bill of lading, abbreviated as BOL and less commonly as BL or B/L, denotes ownership and liability of the goods in transit and once a carrier representative, the driver, signs, they own the liability of the product. It also serves as a list of goods for the receiver to validate against. It also creates an opportunity for the receiver to denote any damage, irregularity, or general issues with the state of the goods upon receipt (We’ve also used the term “automatic BOL” or “aBOL” and seen “advanced BOL” used as well.)
What is the purpose of a bill of lading?
Beyond detailing the goods being shipped, the BOL legally protects the shipper, carrier, and receiver, and is a contract between the three parties. The document proves a shipper has granted permission to haul their goods and then serves as a receipt of delivery, demonstrating the chain of custody for the goods as well as title of ownership throughout the process.
Is a driver legally required to carry a physical bill of lading?
While there is a lot of difference of opinion on this in the transportation industry, only a signed bill of lading is required but it can be digital or paper. The exception is with hazardous materials or HAZMAT, as a paper bill of lading and other shipping documentation are required for those type of shipments.
What is an eBOL?
eBOL is an acronym for electronic bill of lading, or a digital version of a paper bill of lading.
Who generates a bill of lading?
The shipper always generates the BOL using the order information about the shipment. A digital BOL is generated by the shipper in a similar way, with data pulled from a WMS or ERP system. At any point in the process from shipper to carrier to receiver, any party can convert a physical bill of lading to an eBOL. It is most impactful when digitization is done at the touch points between carriers and shippers/receivers as the entire process can then be digital and the data shared and leveraged to improve efficiency at any point throughout the process.
Who signs a bill of lading / eBOL?
Whether a printed or digital BOL, the document must accompany the shipped goods and be signed by an authorized representative from all three parties – shipper, carrier, and receiver.
Who keeps a copy of the bill of lading / eBOL?
The shipper, carrier, and receiver all keep a copy of the bill of lading. In the past, this meant Banker’s Boxes on warehouse floors storing BOLs for years, but with eBOL, bills of lading are stored in the cloud for easy, real-time access by all parties.