Growing Accustomed: Customs platforms give edge to smaller forwarders

Sometimes the smallest things can have the greatest impact. Take customs clearance, for example, in the air cargo handling process.

Carlos Jaramillo, president of Miami-based freight forwarder Marca Global Logistics, recalls a shipment of cargo earlier this year coming from the Far East into Miami to be trans-shipped to Chile, but was held up briefly in customs because there was a discrepancy between the weight printed on the air waybill and the actual weight of the arriving shipment.

It was indeed a small detail, but it potentially had major repercussions for Marca and the shipper. In the recent past, Jaramillo, who runs a small eight-person operation in the Miami office, outsourced all of his customs work to a broker to save on costs. “We used to have to call our customs broker about the held shipment, and it would often take 24 to 36 hours to hear back from them and get the issue resolved,” he said.

From there, delays could cascade further while shipments sat in limbo. “If the resolution could not be solved within a day or two, there was a good chance you could lose your booking on the outbound flight,” Jaramillo said, which would, in turn, lead to an uncomfortable discussion with an unhappy shipper asking why the cargo didn’t arrive on time.

In this instance, however, Marca had taken its customs brokerage duties in house, using a new platform called SkySpace Cargo, which operates completely online with real-time notifications of problems with shipments. Rather than having to make a phone call to a broker, Jaramillo saw an alert on the platform appear on his smartphone. Via a live chat line, he was able to find out about the discrepancy instantly and take action to resolve the problem, which was an incorrect label made from the origin in China. Within minutes, he said, the hold on the shipment was removed and the cargo continued on its journey.

“That’s a difference of a day and a half,” he added. “That definitely saved us a lot of time and money.”

More importantly, the online SkySpace service allowed Marca, which has about 50 total employees at all of its branches, to work as fast as one of the larger, multinational freight forwarders that can afford premium 3PL service. “That 24- to 36-hour delay wouldn’t happen with a larger forwarder,” Jaramillo said. SySpace itself is not seen in the transaction; all Marca customers would see is an online portal with the Marca logo and contact information.

With this customs technology, a smaller “David,” using technology from a startup that had been operational for just a few weeks, just passed itself off as another super-efficient “Goliath” forwarder that would have otherwise undercut his business.

For Marca and other small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the logistics world, it may be a game changer.

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