Digital Transport Documents: They’re Not Emailed PDFs

If you transport goods by road in Europe, you are very familiar with CMR — that is, the Convention on the Contract for the International Carriage of Goods by Road. As described by the United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business:

The [CMR] was developed in 1956. [It] standardizes contractual and carrier liability conditions of transporting goods by road in vehicles for reward if the origin and destination are in two different countries, and at least one of the countries is a contracting party. It has been acceded to by 55 states around the world, thus making the use of the CMR obligatory in these countries. 

The CMR Note is primarily used for commercial transport contract purposes (business-to-business) and is often used by law enforcement and customs authorities for checking the goods details and consignor/consignee/carrier information for clearance in cross-border trade, or additional information in different situations.

While having one standard transport document accepted by all European Union countries (as well as Morocco, Tunisia, and several other countries in the Middle East and Central Asia) is better than having a multitude of different documents to process, the problem is that you still have a lot of paper documents being passed between shippers, carriers, and other trading partners.

There are plenty of drawbacks to paper documents, including: they can get lost or damaged; they are wasteful from an environmental perspective; and if you want visibility to what’s happening in your supply chain, you need to enter the information on them into computer systems, usually manually, which is labor intensive, costly, and often leads to errors.

That is why, back in 2008, an Additional Protocol on e-CMR was introduced to support paperless versions of CMR. It has taken many years for countries to ratify the e-CMR protocol, but so far 34 countries have ratified it and it will become mandatory for all EU countries beginning in 2026.

e-CMR was one of the topics I discussed recently with Gerry Daalhuisen, Tribe Lead Dock Scheduling & Yard Management at Transporeon (a Talking Logistics sponsor), in a video episode titled, “10 Questions on Digital Transport Documents.” 

I began the conversation with a basic question, which several customers had submitted: What is a Digital Transport Document? 

“When people talk about digital documents, many think it’s about generating a PDF version of a document they would normally print and sharing it with others via email,” explains Gerry. “But a PDF document is not machine readable, you can’t really do anything with it.”

A true digital document is when multiple stakeholders can “collaborate on the same document, enriching the information through different steps of a process.”

“We still call it a ‘document’ but it’s about different stakeholders collaborating and [having access to the same information] to use in their processes,” adds Gerry.

From that perspective, transportation management platforms are ideal for processing digital documents like e-CMR. As I have written many times before, transportation management platforms are the business equivalent of Facebook and LinkedIn, industry networks that connect shippers, carriers, logistics service providers, and other stakeholders with each other, enabling them to communicate, collaborate, and execute business processes in more efficient, scalable, and innovative ways.

Earlier this year, Transporeon announced its e-CMR solution (part of its Digital Transport Documents module), and as Gerry discussed in the episode, other digital documents are planned for the future, such as e-delivery notes, industry-specific documents (such as cleaning certificates in the chemical industry), and customs documents.   

Gerry addressed several other questions submitted by clients, including:

  • Is sign-on-glass considered an authorized digital signature?
  • What are the primary benefits of implementing digital documents for businesses and the logistics industry?
  • How does the integration of your Digital Transport Documents solution work with existing transportation management systems and other logistics software?
  • What about implementing this solution with transport partners? What kind of effort is required?

I encourage you to watch the full video for all of Gerry’s insights and advice on those questions and more.

Are you using e-CMR in your transportation operations? What’s been your experience so far? Post a comment and share your perspective.