A Look (Not Too Far) Ahead at a Fully Digitized LTL Shipment Data Stream

NMFTA - September 29, 2023

In recent years, we’ve talked a lot about the digitization of the trucking industry and how we’re catching up quickly after other industries got out ahead of us.

One of the things that happens when you’re catching up is that you make incremental progress, which is where the LTL freight industry finds itself today.

Within the context of the full LTL shipment data stream, some elements are fully digitized while others are not. One example is the development of standards for electronic bills of lading (eBOLs), which NMFTA’s Digital LTL Council developed and launched over the past year. Digitizing bills of lading has led to tremendous gains in efficiency and accuracy.

There are still many critical areas in the LTL shipment data stream that need to be digitized, and while that may feel daunting, we are seeing robust progress as we catch up to other industries.

The Digital LTL Council has an exciting vision for how to complete digitization. Recently, the group unveiled a full Application Program Interface (API) roadmap that includes creation of APIs for every point in the stream that shippers, carriers, and third-party logistics providers can easily download.

APIs allow various computer programs to talk to each other, which makes it possible for the LTL shipment data stream to be easily digitized. The Digital LTL Council is currently working to develop these APIs. It’s an ambitious project that, when complete, will provide the industry with API standards that will allow the industry to digitize nine specific functions, including:

 Operational APIs:

  • Rate quotes
  • Electronic bills of lading
  • Pickup requests and pickup visibility
  • In-transit visibility
  • Preliminary rate charges
  • Financial rate disputes
  • Cargo loss and damage claims

Administrative APIs:

  • Document retrieval
  • Carrier route guides

Dolly Wagner-Wilkins, chief technology officer at Worldwide Express, chaired the Digital LTL Council committee that produced the roadmap. She looks forward to a day when everyone in the industry can use the same APIs when interacting with various partners.

In the meantime, as the nine functions outlined above go through digitization, the industry will see fewer errors and greater visibility for pickups, shipments, and charges.  One predicted outcome would be a sharp decline in phone calls between shippers and carriers as the data stream is digitized.

That excites Geoff Muessig, chairman of the Digital LTL Council and chief marketing officer and executive vice president of PITT OHIO, who has been keeping a close eye on the digitization process.

“LTL carriers do a very good job advising shippers and 3PLs by digital communication when shipment milestones have been successfully passed, such as when the shipment has been picked up or the shipment has been delivered,” Muessig said. “LTL carriers often fail to digitally communicate when a shipment exception arises—a pickup that was missed, or a shipment misrouted, or additional charges such as a liftgate fee added to an invoice. These new real-time APIs will allow carriers to communicate shipment and invoice exceptions as they happen, thereby reducing costs and improving service for all parties.”

There is no specific timetable for the completion of all the APIs, but the Digital LTL Council is on an aggressive path. NMFTA Executive Director Debbie Sparks anticipates that LTL carriers, shippers, and 3PLs will love the outcome.

“NMFTA continues to lead the LTL industry in its drive to digitize,” Sparks said. “These APIs will serve as a welcomed change to carriers who want to digitize but struggle with the time or the expertise to develop their own digital tools. Now they won’t have to. They can download the ones we will offer, and that will mean the entire industry is harmonized and operating according to the same standard.”

Want to get involved? The Council will host a Pickup Request/Pickup Visibility Workshop every Tuesday at 2:00 pm ET. Additionally, the In Transit Workshop will be held Thursday, October 5 at 2:00 pm ET and the Preliminary Freight Charges Workshop will be held Friday, October 6 also at 2:00 pm ET. To learn more or to register, contact the Council’s Executive Director Paul Dugent at paul.dugent@nmfta.org.


The National Motor Freight Traffic Association promotes, advances, and improves the welfare and interests of the motor carrier industry and less than truckload carriers operating in commerce, both domestically and/or internationally.