Road transportation of goods is undergoing fundamental pressures and changes due to the acceleration of European economies, deregulation then over regulation of the sector, and progress on the IT and IoT sides.
One good example is the CMR -or- letter of co-voiturage. This document, now a seemingly antique paper document, was introduced through a European convention in 1956. The idea was to standardize the transport contract format so as to avoid discrepancies among formats until then adopted in various country of the then called CECA- communauté européenne du charbon et de l’acier.
In 2008, the European Union adopted a text that would allow for the CMR document to be digitized, as it became more and more trapped, as a ‘paper bottle neck’ between always better perfoming ‘Transport Management Systems’ softwares used to plan and organize cross-frontiers roads shipments.
Force is to say that the paper CMR is proving resilient to change. Today the paper form still remains the norm used by industries despite a high 4 Euros average processing cost per CMR, and despite possible discrepancies or even fraud.
The CMR document is equivalent to a binding contract established between the sender, the consignee and the receiver of the goods. It describes the nature of the transported goods, the way the goods have been packed, it also tells if a transported product is dangerous. Finally It also describes the ownership and the responsibility of the goods over the time of transport.
With an estimated 400 millions CMR documents established each year throughout Europe, technological savy cargo companies as well as IT companies have been trying to develop various eCMR softwares.
They have until now largely failed in doing so due to several factors.
1 — the ergonomic of the proposed e-CMR solutions were not adapted to the extreme mobility situations imposed by the transportation of goods.
2 — Because they have a small user-base to start with, the proposed e-CMR solutions end up being more expensive than paper.
3 — the e-CMR solutions show no compatibility between each other making it impossible for EU road control authorities to read them as they would need an access to each of the proposed eCMR solution.
A more recent decentralized technology, the blockchain is now opening a new promise to make all those solutions finally compatibles.
Blockchain is an information storage and sharing technology, that cannot be tampered with, that is used to bring data transparency between different actors, having little confidence into each-other, who must however share data to work together. All information in a blockchain is encrypted, time stamped and often hashed. As a result of this information authenticity and transparency, some trust is generated between the actors of the work ecosystem.
Using a blockchain to record road documentation, a sender, a consignee, and a transporter can for instance agree to store CMR related information on a decentralized support to follow together with trust the various steps of a transportation workflow.
The Belgian development company block0 (www.block0.io) developed for instance a mobile e-CMR software, enabling shared information storage on a blockchain, that would also allow for the transfer of responsibility over the merchandise between sender, transporter and consignee via a QR-code signature authentication. The solution also provided a transport summary view via an internet platform where delivery performance KPI can be monitored.
But the blockchain can do more. Much more!
A next step would be to use the blockchain as an anchor point for all e-CMR solutions (centralized or decentralized) to hook into, so that the blockchain becomes an over layer that can, de facto, become the single point of consultation for all EU road, tax, customs authorities.
This would allow for the many e-CMR solutions to keep prospering while allowing some level of interaction (a so called interoperability) between them all.
A generic blockchain e-CMR solution would allow for transparency of the information, less fraud, faster time for authorities to compare the paperwork and the real load work flows. If the e-CMR can be linked to the licence plate of the transportation truck, automatic and systematic check can rapidly be setup via road camera surveillance. Then, only the faulty transports would be intercepted thus providing more efficiency for authorities.
The question remains open as to when such a solution will appear on the market, at what speed it will be adopted by the industry and how will the authorities will recognize it officially. Only time will tell.
But the days of the paper CMR are certainly numbered. Soon enough it will belong to the ever growing museum of administrative templates. Hopefully for the better, and for more safety on our roads.