by Malcolm Wheatley

PM Global Foods Uses Electronic Bills of Lading to Improve its Invoicing Process

Sep 01, 20023 mins
BPM Systems

It’s taken most of a lifetime working in exports for PM Global Foods Logistics Manager Mike Hampel to acquire his present familiarity with the intricacies of the international trading system. After joining the Atlanta-based meat packer in February 2001, it took Hampel less than a month to convince his new bosses to switch a traditional paper-based system to an improved documentation process operated by shipping company American President’s Lines (APL). [See “(Not Sitting on a) Dock of the Bay,”]

For PM Global Foods to invoice an export customer for a container-load of beef or pork, a bill of lading is required. This is drawn up by the shipping company, based on information supplied by the vendor in a document known as the “master bill of lading instruction.” When complete, the shipping company faxes a draft copy to PM Global Foods, and follows through by sending it the required number of original and nonnegotiable bills of lading?three original and six nonnegotiable in PM Global Foods’ case. Finally, the company draws up an invoice, attaches the bill of lading, certificate of insurance and any other documents, and sends the package to the customer.

That was then. Now, thanks to a system called E-BL Print, developed and operated by APL, the bill of lading is drawn up electronically, checked online and printed out in Hampel’s office along with the appropriate digital signatures. “It’s all on the Web,” he says. “What used to take between four and six days now takes two to three days. The day after the boat sails, we can have a bill of lading that we can get to the customer and start the process of getting paid.”

APL isn’t alone in offering such a service, of course. FedEx has spent many millions developing its own version, explains Denise Wood, vice president of customer systems at the Memphis, Tenn.-based freight company. Some parts of it are freely available at the company’s website, while other parts attract a charge, she says, explaining that it’s essentially an extension of the familiar FedEx track-and-trace service many of us use to find out where our packages are. Trouble is, of course, while such shipper’s services can be useful for small companies willing to tie themselves to one shipper, bigger companies must either similarly tie themselves to a single freight company, or deal with duplicate systems.