E-freight — in the wider sense of exchanging documents electronically — has been a reality for freight forwarders since the late 20th century. The advent of the internet and the ubiquity of email eliminated the need to physically transport documents on planes. Documents were printed locally and then sent as an email attachment to the involved parties. Documents that were not created locally could be scanned and sent via email. This was one of the most quickly adopted features in our software back then. It saved time and money for everybody and led to the quick decline of the fax machine.
The one drawback, however, is that most documents created for consumption by human beings are hard to parse by a machine. People excel at extracting information from unstructured, free-form text content. Machines, however, rely on rigid structures with a clearly defined and understood content. To enable exchange of data in a heterogeneous environment requires a well-defined, normative format so that the receiving side can interpret and parse the information transmitted by the sender.
Exchanging a PDF, Word or Excel document has been a solid starting point. But in the vast majority of the currently implemented processes, this still requires at least partial manual entry of data at the receiving side. This is where e-freight can be a huge improvement. Defining common data formats and promoting their adoption across the industry does not only lead to the potential elimination of paper. It also has the potential to severely impact the required resources to process a shipment along the supply chain.
Our new software system, Scope, has been designed from the start to embrace the standards of e-freight. Scope is able to process invoices and packing lists received in electronic format, which can then be consolidated into a shipment by the forwarder. Integrated customs brokerage modules use the available information to prepare and submit export customs filing. House and Master AWB data is submitted automatically to the carrier and applicable ground handling agents. This enriched data set can then be transmitted to the import agent who may use it to create and process the respective import shipments, including import customs brokerage.
Customers who have adapted from paper-based to paperless communication have reduced costs across the board and seen major improvements in quality.
Christian Riege is the senior vice president of software development at Riege Software International.