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Supply chain digitalization: What can be expected in 2021?

One of the very well-known impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it has drastically accelerated the supply chain’s digital transformation. This year will offer the opportunity to consolidate this digitalization and adopt rising trends. With its digital strategy, FIATA supports its members in this journey by offering them concrete solutions that will facilitate their daily work. Here is a look at some of the digital trends expected to grow throughout 2021 and upcoming solutions that will be launched by FIATA this year.

e-Bill of Lading (eBL) standards

The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the urgent need for a strong adoption of the digital version of one of the most important trade documents – the bill of lading. Several solution providers and carriers have offered proprietary versions of eBLs for a few years now, but the lack of standardization (which makes these solutions hardly interoperable) has prevented large-scale adoption. 

In December 2020, the Digital Container Shipping Association (DCSA) finally opened the way to standardization by publishing its data and process standards for the submission of shipping instructions and the issuance of the bill of lading. This is an important first step to unify communication between all parties involved in a transaction, aiming towards a full adoption of the eBL.

The FIATA solution

FIATA created its own standard more than 50 years ago – the FIATA Bill of Lading (FBL). It has a unique advantage compared to any other bill of lading – its multimodality. In 2021, the eFBL is becoming a reality, as FIATA will release its eFBL standard this year.

The eFBL standard will be based on the UN / CEFACT Multimodal Transport Reference Data Model, to ensure interoperability with other standards and most systems. It will be tested by different software providers, as part of a proof of concept, aiming to make the open source standard available to all.

FIATA is going even further by testing a tracking solution for its documents, which will allow full traceability, through a unique QR code and number attached to each document. This will enable all parties interacting with an eFBL to verify the validity of the document, the integrity of its content, as well as the identity of its issuer, by scanning the QR code or uploading the PDF on FIATA’s website. This solution is currently being tested through a proof of concept and its full implementation is planned to start in Q3 / 2021.

Facilitated online payments

Physical payment methods are not only complex and less secure but have posed health risks during the pandemic too. More and more people, as well as firms, have therefore decided to switch to online and contactless solutions.

PayCargo is one of the leaders for such solutions, offering a secure platform for cargo payments, facilitating transactions between payers and vendors and helping expedite the release of cargo.

The FIATA solution

In 2020, FIATA initiated a partnership with PayCargo to create value for its members. Together, both parties are developing a custom platform for FIATA members, which will allow facilitated payments between them, benefiting from reduced transaction fees. The platform will be launched during the FIATA HQ Meeting, taking place from 22–25 March 2021. More information will be shared during the meeting.

Enhanced connectivity, data sharing and collaboration

All of the players in the supply chain are increasingly looking for more visibility and transparency. Shippers, carriers and freight forwarders all produce more and more data, but everyone is still struggling to exchange it. The lack of standards or siloed usage of standards per transport domain is jeopardizing the interoperability of the different systems being used.

Over the last few years, however, different initiatives have been developed to facilitate the interconnectivity of existing systems, allowing supply chain actors to exchange information while keeping control over their data. Initiatives such as IATA One Record, FEDeRATED, FENIX or IPCSA NoTN all aim to create data-sharing systems, or a network of networks, connecting existing platforms and local data-sharing communities.

The FIATA solution

To facilitate members’ access to seamless data exchange, FIATA intends to test the use of FIATA’s digital identity to connect to different data-sharing ecosystems. 

FIATA is also in discussions with the China International Freight Forwarders Association (CIFA) to explore a collaboration effort to develop a networking and collaboration platform in China. The aim is to develop and facilitate professional and business relationships between FIATA and CIFA members.

Enhanced connectivity and collaboration between the different stakeholders of the supply chain is also critical to ensure the smooth movement of goods, and FIATA is willing to help its members to connect with each other and find the right business partners. More information about this networking platform will be shared in due time.


The acceleration of the digitalization of supply chain processes, along with the high focus placed on business continuity, is opening up new cybersecurity flaws and breaches for hackers.

In 2020, companies around the world dealt with an increased number of ransomware and other cyberattacks, facilitated by the pandemic. Logistics and transport organizations were not spared. CMA CGM was the latest shipping company to be hit by a ransomware attack that shut down its e-commerce sites for two weeks, while the International Maritime Organization also suffered a cyberattack to its IT systems last October.

Experts are urging companies to take the necessary action, prioritize and invest in cybersecurity to reduce the risk of attacks, and limit the damage that could be caused by such incidents.

The FIATA solution

FIATA takes these risks seriously and has taken proactive steps to protect its IT infrastructure and to help its members increase security in their day-to-day interaction with partners. Important IT tools have been updated, such as CRM and invoicing systems, to ensure optimal protection of FIATA members’ data.

Through its digital identity project FIATA will provide its members with a secure way of sharing identity data. Members will be able to use their digital ID to be authenticated by different software providers and certify their trustworthiness to business partners.

FIATA’s documents-tracking solution will significantly increase the security of key trade documents in the supply chain, but the solution is also planned to be used for diplomas and invoices. The unique QR code and number that will be attached to each document will certify its validity and allow all stakeholders to have access to a full audit trail for each document issued. Regular updates about this project will be shared throughout the year.

Electronic transferable records

The UNCITRAL Model Law on Electronic Transferable Records (MLETR), adopted in 2017, aims to enable the legal use of electronic transferable records (documents of title) both domestically and across borders.

Despite strong support from the International Chamber of Commerce, the adoption of MLETR remains low. It has so far only been enacted in Bahrain, in 2018, and early this year in Singapore.

UN / CEFACT launched a new project in 2020 to encourage the adoption of the law and to agree on an international approach to satisfy the reliability issues described in MLETR.

The FIATA solution

FIATA takes an active part in the working groups established as a part of the overall UN / CEFACT project called ‘Transfer of MLETR compliant titles’, with first outcomes expected in 2021. More information will be shared in due course.

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