Default method of communication remains elusive

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At its simplest, e-Commerce needs e-Freight to exist. Online orders from foreign customers, international trade that skips borders, have all rapidly grown in many markets.

All players in the global e-Commerce supply chains face strict regulations, especially for dangerous goods cargo. Accompanying information to the shipment has to be shared with all parties involved in the transportation chain, but experience has shown that it is extremely challenging to develop a default communication method in such a way that it can be understood and accepted universally.

That is where DGOffice BV has been involved in electronic data exchange for almost two decades. The Dutch-based software house sent its first electronic messages in 2000, a digital traffic which has grown to 32,000 multimodal webservice requests handled by DGOffice per day today, notes DGOffice BV marketing and communication manager Vivian Labrecque. The company also played a part in the initial phase of the IATA CargoXML project earlier this decade.

She says: “In general, the demand for electronic data sharing increases exponentially, which creates the push from more and more parties towards e-Freight. Therefore, different projects are initiated in the industry. DGOffice BV participates in several of those electronic data exchange projects and provides input for dangerous goods shipments in particular.”

Last year, the company published its DGXML message standard, which is publicly available (under shared commons) on their website. It is a version-controlled XML standard that can be used for any mode of transport, including airfreight and multimodal shipments. Usage of this standard along the transportation chain means that data does not have to be re-copied by each involved party. For obvious reasons, this saves time and reduces the chances of errors, non-compliance and other consequences to a minimum, she says.

Labrecque says: “A next step would be one multimodal collaboration platform for DGOffice.net can function like this because of the recently released e-Freight solution.”

“As shippers demand better management and visibility in the transportation chain, the status of exported shipments in DGOffice is displayed. Each party in a specific transportation chain, such as shippers or ground handlers, can get access to the validated information, which will automatically be re-used where applicable. Additionally, there are build-in solutions mainly developed for forwarders. The software displays all declarations that are sent to them by shippers in DGOffice.net. The status of a shipment can be changed or simply add an AWB and station of loading/unloading. Updated declarations can be exported/send to ground handlers/carriers.”

Multi-platform air cargo industry services provider HAE Group has an interest in e-Freight that stems from a wish to see “the maximum penetration of e-AWB and also the message improvement programme,” according to HAE Group director Neville Karai.

He says: “GSAs and industry service providers need to provide not just physical services but also ways to integrate into as many links into the supply chain as possible.”

As a GSA, the UK-based group is responsible for the sale, often full data capture and subsequent customer service on the transit of goods shipped.

Karai says: “Our interest has to be helping our airlines get information automatically from their customers, who we sell to. We have already embarked on this with our own bespoke webportal, which allows us to move away from standard manual sales to our customers, it has now developed into, in a number of cases, making a booking with an EDI link to the airline and culminates with the e-AWB to the handler and the airline.”

He considers that in the next decade e-Freight has a major role to play in the entire e-commerce supply chain and for shippers and consignees.

“We need the collection/delivery and handling agents to all participate. I also think key players in each part of the supply chain need to view these developments as efficiencies rather than revenue opportunities. Unless they do this costs will become prohibitive,” he says.

IATA is aware of the challenge and initiated in 2017 a number of fresh initiatives: “I do think it needs more resources to help people get to the standard.”

E-Commerce companies have the technology architecture to integrate almost any of the elements e-Freight and be active participants, they purchase capacity, handle cargo, manifest cargo, have it transported to a destination, clear and deliver it. Cross border e-commerce is a key focus for all of them.

Karai says: “They will be disruptive and should be embraced as the new integrator. They will buy on an a la carte basis from all the key links in the supply chain as they build expertise. From HAE’s perspective we try and facilitate a number of links in the chain not just one gaining a share of this business.”

What are the brakes on the greater use of e-Freight, according to Karai?

“Multinational forwarders have their own IT infrastructure that they want to integrate to airlines, service providers and customs authorities around the world. SMEs do not and current service providers all want to offer comms solutions that SMEs cannot afford via relatively high per transaction fees. Handlers then charge for data inputting. This slows down adoption and adds costs,” he notes.

“Our target is to add some of these services as part of our own service offering, if we can do this, we believe forwarders and airlines will want to use us more and the carriers we represent.”