Chris Gledhill is co-founder and CEO of PDMS, an independent software engineering and digital transformation company he started in the Isle of Man in 1993.
PDMS have been a supplier member of the IOE&IT for six months.
Here, Chris discusses his IOE&IT membership, the government’s plans for a new Single Trade Window (STW) and the wider importance of the digitalisation of international trade.
You have been a supplier member of the IOE&IT for several months now. What brought you to the IOE&IT and what have you done with the membership so far?
As a 30-year-old software engineering company, we have been through the journey of digital transformation with other industry sectors. We recently became more actively involved in the sector having delivered a digital solution to help exporters to Northern Ireland with their TSS declarations. We became a supplier member to learn more about the broader export and international trade community and build upon our knowledge of the sector. We need to understand the problem before we can help with a solution and, as the sector’s leading experts, the Institute’s membership has proven invaluable.
Since joining, we have co-hosted a webinar with IOE&IT focusing on digital transformation, we’ve attended several online and in person events and forged meaningful relationships with others in the sector.
What member benefits at the IOE&IT do you value most?
The benefit we value most about being a supplier member is the connections the IOE&IT have. Our online webinar was attended by over 700 people and we’ve also attended in-person events and made new connections. As a result, more people are now aware of PDMS and the digital services and solutions we offer and as an organisation, we are much better informed about the issues facing the international trade community.
What role do you see organisations like the IOE&IT having in UK and global trade, and why do you think this is important?
The highly changeable current market conditions highlight the importance of trade (both import and export) to the UK. As a member of the IOE&IT, we get to hear about topics currently affecting the sector and we can attend relevant webinars and events to help improve our knowledge and expertise. The IOE&IT also has reach and influence when it comes to working with the government on international trade issues and representing the opinions of the sector and its members.
What do you see as the key benefits of the STW for businesses?
The STW is about standardising and consolidating how trade-related data is shared with the government and how that data is then shared with other trading partners.
It’s a simple idea with the potential to be hugely beneficial. It takes a lot of complex bureaucracy and makes it easier to automate.
This works on two levels. First, it's beneficial from the point of view of allowing the use of technology and automation to reduce costs and administrative burden. But it should also make compliance easier. That means it should reduce risk, which is important for making it easier for organisations to engage with different export channels. Without this simplification, exporting can seem like a massive barrier to anyone who hasn’t done it before.
Organisations like PDMS can help, by providing an understanding of how to interact with the systems, and how to ensure all documentation that's required is provided on time to the right people and places.
The use of technology to plug into a process and make trade easier is an entirely sensible thing to try, and it's not just the UK that's trying it.
How can businesses prepare for the STW and what challenges will it present?
It requires discipline around the quality of your data. This is about having control and an understanding of the information architecture of the trade process. It also means knowing your own systems and enabling information to flow in a way which is consistent.
The biggest enemy with these things is when the data that's needed is not properly structured, or where there isn't a single source of truth. The process of preparing for the STW requires time and investment in combination with the kind of expertise in digital transformation that a company like ours can provide.
In fact, we have found with the trade sector that people are often so overwhelmed by manual processes, they never find the time or have the headspace to think about the transition to a more efficient, digital process. So, it's about recognising this is something worth engaging with to create productivity gains in the future.
As a project this requires both one-off application of technical expertise, but also the engagement of the people across the organisation.
There are lots of new systems in use with more on the way. How can firms adopt quickly, while minimising disruption?
These things come down to essentially the same thing, which is that you need to have your own information under control and have done your housekeeping around data with good systems in place. In other words, you need strong discipline around information management.
The information won’t necessarily change, and the products you’re trading won't change. However, you’ll need to have a more in-depth understanding of the information you need to provide. If all that is in place, then these are just new, hopefully more efficient, ways to manage the same information flows.
Any organisation that needs to complete a lot of legwork to manage their information flows, will struggle with adapting to new systems. If you get that information architecture in order, with a single source of truth, you’ll find it easier to adapt.
The whole focus of this activity is making international markets more accessible to smaller, more niche organisations. From an SME’s perspective, the ability to trade internationally should be eased by automation, clarification and simplification.
The single point of entry, with the STW concept, is all about putting information into one place and having it shared with the different agencies behind the scenes that require it, without having to understand all those processes. The SME owner just needs to understand the information they’re providing. That is a huge benefit to new entrants into export markets.
To read more of the October edition of Member Monthly go here.