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Making Logistics Paperless

Making Logistics Paperless
Jorge Cachinero el


The digital revolution is well underway, fast transforming and reshaping how we transport logistics and mobility.

But when it comes to mobility, despite considerable improvements in recent years, digitization is yet to make its full impact felt.

Too much of the logistics business remains paper based, and where data is available electronically, its sharing is limited, due mainly by a lack of inter-operability and business connections.

The rules for transporting goods internationally are covered by the United Nations Convention on the Contract for the International Carriage of Goods by Road (CMR Convention).

This is an instrument of international private law adopted on 19 May 1956 governing the contractual relations for the international carriage of goods by road between the sender, the carrier and the consignee.

In the road transport sector, CMR consignment notes are one of the key documents for cross-border operations.

It is an official document on shipments between senders and transporters, providing a paper trail of the logistics transfer and is an essential document held by the driver of the truck in relation to the load carried.

There are some 150-200 million CMRs and other consignment notes used annually in Europe for international trips, with this number skyrocketing to approximately 1 billion if national freight transport is included.

That is a colossal amount of paper to use in this age of digitization.

Aside from the environmental implications of using paper, by digitizing CMR some 38-44% of time could be saved on administrative tasks such as completing, formatting, printing, checking, signing and cross-checking each paper CMR.

Digitization’s onward march is infiltrating, and improving, every aspect of our day to day lives, and it’s no different for the road transport industry.

There is no doubt that electronic documents and data sharing will increase transparency, accuracy and speed of business processes.

Still, the industry is eager for a large scale uptake of e-CMR to alleviate one current situation – whereby it’s not uncommon for payments to be delayed by days, sometimes weeks, because transport operators need to show signed CMR papers. In an industry that depends on single digit profit margins, cash flow equals survival.

Imagine, for a moment, a transport operator. The company uses two million sheets of paper to transport one million vehicles per year. Apply this average figure over the whole of Europe, and this equates to 16.5 million vehicles transported and a monumental 33 million sheets of paper.

This amount of used paper represents an entire ecosystem – we could save a potential 135 tonnes of wood each year by getting on the digitization wagon.

And we can’t ignore the bottom line – the increased transparency, accuracy and speed that digitization brings will directly benefit the road transport operator.

To help address CMR’s economic and environmental impact, in February 2008, a protocol was added to the CMR Convention, which requested that CMR could be managed electronically, using ‘e-CMR’.

This protocol entered into force on 5 June 2011, and to date 17 countries have acceded including: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Iran, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Moldova, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland and Turkey.

IRU has supported CMR/e-CMR development for decades and is currently assisting authorities worldwide through advisory services on accession, training, pilots and industry adoption of CMR/e-CMR.

IRU was also involved in e-CMR’s successful launch in January 2017 with the first ever border crossing to use electronic consignment notes between Spain and France, proving that the system works and is simple to implement and use.

e-CMR will also feature on the agenda of February United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Inland Transport Committee (ITC) meetings (the ITC is the highest policy making body of the UNECE in the field of transport), and was also extensively discussed at the IRU November 2018 World Congress held in Oman.

In addition, the Logistics & Innovation Forum, London, 3 October 2019, will take a road safety focus where e-CMR will be highlighted as one of the contributing services, thanks to it being linked to eCall, a system for trucks that automatically dials emergency services in the event of a road traffic accident

In its paper-based form, the CMR consignment note brings many benefits; harmonizing contractual conditions for goods transported by road and facilitating goods transport overall. e-CMR retains all these benefits, and by digitizing the system, removes paperwork and handling costs.

With e-CMR, transport operators are now able to input electronically, store logistics information and exchange data, in real time via a mobile phone or tablet.

Because of its digital nature, e-CMR can also be easily integrated with other services used by transport companies, e.g. customs declaration or transport and fleet management services.

By digitizing, the three parties involved in each shipment benefit from increased overall efficiency of logistics, resulting in increased economic competitiveness.

The timely recording of data means that agencies instantly receive information on the goods being transported, so any required subsequent actions, such as initiating legal processes, invoicing or even accident response procedures, happen faster and at less cost.

Momentum continues to grow for e-CMR. President Klaus-Werner Iohannis signed the decree for Romania to follow with accession to e-CMR in the coming months.

The news promises improved competitiveness on the international market for Romania and signals a renewed impetus for digital transport operations across Europe in 2019 and beyond.

And, most recently, Finland acceded to e-CMR, with the protocol due to enter into force in April of this year.

The message is clear, e-CMR is taking transport into the future, making it more efficient, reducing the environmental impact of global trade and also reducing operational costs for those at the grass roots of the industry.


Picture: President of Romania, Mr Klaus-Werner Iohannis.

With the contribution of Janet Waring, Jens Hügel and John Kidd.


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