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CON-WAY releases XML interface

Ann Arbor, MI  June 7, 2001  Con-Way Transportation Services has announced the addition of an Extensible Markup Language (XML) interface that its customers can use to transmit bill of lading (BOL) and order pickup data to CON-WAY. Use of the new e-business tool will enable CON-WAY's less-than-truckload (LTL) customers to bring forward data from their order entry system, automatically populate a bill of lading, and transmit that completed document to CON-WAY, their shipping dock, their customer and their rate auditor.

The bill of lading is the document that forms the contract between a shipper and a carrier for the movement of freight. It's a basic requirement to complete each shipment and defines origin and destination, describes the freight and quantity and the liability conditions for safe delivery. All this information is generally collected and organized when the seller of a product receives an order from their customer.

More and more of these orders are being collected in electronic format. They can come in the form of customer entries on a Web site where a product is sold or through central customer order centers where customer service personnel enter the order specifics. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) programs are used to transmit these orders through to production, accounting and warehousing departments within a company.

The CON-WAY XML link will allow this data to flow on to a bill of lading and trigger a pickup by the appropriate CON-WAY regional LTL carrier. We added the functions to our Web site in the fall of last year that allowed manual entry of bill of lading information and transmission of a pickup order, said Jacquelyn Barretta, vice president, information services for CON-WAY. We've also been able to accept BOL information through EDI. The XML link is similar to EDI in that it accomplishes electronic transfer of the information, but it also provides much greater flexibility to our customers to set up Web-based links with our e-commerce systems.

A process known as mapping addresses various data elements contained in a bill of lading and can take extra time and effort when companies set up EDI connections for data transfer. Standards for the order in which the data elements are transmitted and the amount of space (bytes) each data element will consume must be agreed upon and rigorously followed by the partners in the data transfer. XML links are much more flexible so the time to set up the link is shorter and data processing formats of each partner's operating system can be used with few, if any, modifications, said Barretta.

We expect the XML link for the BOL to bring a number of benefits beyond just the reduced costs of setup, said Bryan Millican, executive vice president, sales and marketing for CON-WAY. The BOL has always carried the information necessary to complete the transportation transaction. We expect that as our customers gain experience with the flexible data format they will want to include some of their internal data codes within the BOL. When we send the invoice for our services and continue to report the progress of the shipment, we can include those customer-unique codes in each electronic interchange to help our customers automate more of their own processes that are related to the entire transaction.

The company cited a number of examples of customer-process functions that could benefit. Automated journal entry of transportation charges can be accomplished. The charges can then be matched by the CON-WAY customer against their customer's account for later auditing of collections and profit measurement. If invoicing is triggered at time of delivery, customer-unique order numbers attached to electronic delivery notices and invoices can be automatically generated.

The electronic version of the CON-WAY bill of lading data can also be easily transformed and transmitted to other transaction parties that may require a paper copy of the document, such as the shipping dock. This is where the shipper and the CON-WAY driver sales representative sign and acknowledge transfer of responsibility for the freight. The shipper's bill auditing department, or outside auditor, can receive a copy of the BOL transmitted by the shipper, thus easing the match-audit-and-payment process when the carrier sends the invoice.