It’s always refreshing to hear a technology provider admit that there is little value in tech for its own sake. In the world of trade, as elsewhere, digital transformation is increasingly seen as the solution to a wide range of problems. It’s a remarkable shift for an industry still reliant on paper-based processes some of which date back to the 17th century.
But for Ramin Takin, co-founder and head of sales & partnerships at global trade management software firm Parkway Logic, it is crucial that potential users can see the benefits from these innovations in digital trade.
“Most of the people we talk to in the trade community are not really that gung-ho about technology for its own sake. They're looking to understand and invest in it where they can see the benefits it will bring.”
The benefits of digital trade
Whether the benefits are speedier and less cumbersome customs processes, less bureaucracy, or greater traceability and transparency, the raft of new digital-first trade initiatives including trusted trader schemes, single trade windows and digital trade corridors will place a huge emphasis on the reliability of data processing systems.
Parkway Logic’s main platform is called Exabler, and Takin is clear that Exabler is about helping traders make the most of these future schemes as well as assisting with compliance with current trade rules and regulations.
“Our focus is on helping companies of all sizes, from MSMEs through to large multinationals. We focus on helping them improve trade compliance and creating trade documents efficiently and correctly.
“We help with associated instructions to shippers and customs brokers and people like that. In the end, that’s very often what trade documents are – they’re declarations or instructions to other people. Exabler helps people do all that on
a digital platform.
“We help clients digitize their data efficiently and digitalize the processes that connect internal systems and their connections to external service providers. We’re all about trade documents, but around that we help with trade compliance and trade instructions.”
The private sector’s single window
If that all sounds similar to the concept underpinning the single trade window, that’s no accident. Whereas single trade windows are about traders relationships with governments and other public authorities, the Exabler platform is really a private sector equivalent.
“It is the same sort of concept, but instead of us helping traders send information to government and helping government departments interface in a clear way, we’re doing the same thing on the private side, where a business needs to talk to their private sector service providers.”
And it’s worth noting that IOE&IT members get a great deal from Exabler, with a discounted price which includes a free user.
“We don't give that to other customers,” says Takin. “And the sign-up process is simple. Clients say who they want on the platform, and we work with IOE&IT to identify them as members and then send a one-time invite link, where they sign up and create an account.”
“They are guided where necessary to set up all the information for their business, their suppliers and customers, any products they buy and sell and all the different commodity codes. Then they can start creating and managing trade documents.”
Looking out for the window
Takin says the firm is keeping a close eye on the single trade window developments and hopes that any system that is developed will be as open as possible and built around common standards.
“In a market where a lot of these services are fragmented, it makes sense as part of a single trade window to consolidate things. It won’t be good if you can’t get different participants working on a common standard.
“Be it different service providers or different software providers, common standards mean it is easy for customers to get on board and understand it. And, if need be, they can switch from one provider to another.”
And there will be big advantages, says Takin, in greater digitalisation of trade. Not least because – despite the historical reluctance to embrace anything other than paper documents – it is an area that is ripe to be made electronic.
“Trade documents usually represent some sort of instruction or declaration as a certificate or a declaration to a government authority. They are about information being sent from one party to another or shared between multiple parties. That’s something
electronic systems do more quickly and more efficiently. Critically, they do it in a transparent way.
“Questions around the integrity of paper documents should be less of an issue when we move to electronic documents, because you can track the fact it’s the same document with the same content as it purports to be.
“This could make a drastic improvement, not just saving paper but reducing lost scribbles on pieces of paper and so on. And it should improve the integrity of information moving around and the reliability of the data, which means everyone will benefit.”
An ecosystem of trust
This touches on the schemes such as the ecosystem of trust and makes a strong case for collecting as much information as possible. As Takin explains,
“In CDS, there are already provisions for the government to ask for information about other supply chain actors currently not declared in customs declarations. That’s because they know having that information will help identify the risk profile of a consignment
to see whether it needs to be checked or not.
“It helps them stay on top of fraud more quickly and more accurately. They don't have to stop consignments that are fine. And this is not just happening in the UK. They are happening elsewhere and driving the same sort of changes all over the world, because
the technology is available and making it possible for everyone to benefit from these things in a way that suits their jurisdiction and market.”
Takin adds that a great example is the use of electronic bills of lading. He points to a recent report by a few big carriers stating they would move to 50% e-bills of lading within five years and then 100% by 2030.
“We ran a poll on LinkedIn and other places and most respondents thought it would be at least that fast, if not faster. It’s all part of the same area driven by the electronic trade documents bill which is making its way through the UK parliament. It
might take a long time to be enacted, but once it comes, it will help drive a lot of these changes. And when large participants in the market are leading the way, it makes it easier for everyone else to adopt it as well.”
What do companies need to do now?
Asked whether companies need to prepare for all this change now and, if so, how, Takin is clear that there are “early-mover advantages” to doing so.
“We take a no-nonsense approach, which we also see with our users. Most of them have heard of these initiatives. Maybe some smaller ones haven't had the time, but the large companies are aware this is coming and they’re just interested to see if there
is a clear benefit. We've had a few companies aware of the proposed UK Target Border Operating Model and asking how we are going to work with that.
But Takin adds that the UK can’t operate digital trade in isolation.
“We need to work with counterparties in other countries, because if there’s a paper requirement at any step in the process, the paper won’t go away. That’s going to be the case, which is why it’s interesting with e-bills of lading, that they might push things faster because of where they sit in the industry.”
But Takin recognises that a lot of countries will still have requirements for paper documents for a long time, so lots of trade will still be paper-based, but he says this may shift as awareness of the benefits spreads from country to country.
“With these things, where we can see what’s coming with some degree of accuracy, it's important to have conversations early on, because it’s about the process before the technology changing process is difficult.
“And understanding what these developments mean for existing processes over the long or medium term is important for the managers and operators in businesses. They need to know how things will develop over time.”
IOE&IT members benefit from the IOE&IT's partnership with Pathway Logic and can get 20% access discount and an extra user account for free. Visit Exabler’s page for more details. Or click here to read more from Takin and his co-founder Chris Woodington on the Exabler story. Members can also hear more from Exabler at MemberCon 2023 in Liverpool on Wednesday 5 July.