The past and the future of shipping documentation

Global shipping has always been full of uncertainty. In the past century, we have managed to reduce uncertainty through various means. While there are numerous trade mechanisms that facilitate the flow of goods, one of the most important instruments that we have, is the idea of shipping documentation.

From the days when cargo was moved by sail ships, documentation served to outline the rules of commerce and, the parties involved in a particular trade agreement. Above all, it was a format that established trust. Often, the trust attached to these documents was so high, that the document itself became as valuable as the cargo. Owning it allowed legally lay claim to the goods. The Bill of Lading as we know it, is one such example, and its story is older than one might realize.

Merchants have been keeping detailed accounts of trade activity since ancient times. The Chinese, Egyptians, and Phoenicians all had well-developed systems for tracking cargo quantities and payments. However, as Europe entered the Age of Discovery, trade became more complex and record keeping was not enough. During the 1300s the Mediterranean region was a hotspot for trade and, merchants needed more dynamic tools for facilitating the exchange of trade-related information. One of the earliest accounts of the Bill of Lading is from 1390 where “..Anthony Ghileta shipped certain wax and hides in the name and on behalf of Symon Marabottus which things must be delivered at Pisa to Mr. Percival de Guisulfis.”

Noticeably, since the 1300s, the format for the Bill of Lading has been updated. However, if one takes a look at a trade document from the 1700s, the core information is strikingly similar to its modern counterpart. Today, in some cases the Bill of Lading document has been digitized, but often human eyes are still needed to check the information and ensure it is accurate. One possible reason is accountability, both within the organization itself and amongst trade partners themselves. Trust remains an essential component of global trade relationships.

Claridocs is on a mission to help the shipping industry enter a new age. There is an incredible amount of business value that could be generated by updating the methods for document exchange. As global trade intensifies, processing trade-related documentation will represent an ever-growing burden to companies. We realize that the digital revolution will not come easy in the freight sector where  “business as usual” has ruled for decades. However, we do believe that for companies ready to explore the future of shipping documentation there is real potential to increase efficiency while generating new businesses. Feel free to schedule a demo with the Claridocs team and hear more.

Source: Aikens, R., Lord, R., Bools, M., Bolding, M., Toh, K.S., and Goldby, M., 2020. Bills of lading. Informa Law from Routledge.

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