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Will Britain fall off the edge of the world on Brexit day?
Personally, I hope not, but there are many ready to do the Schadenfreude shuffle to the tune of Ding dong! The witch is dead. You know the type: cometh the hour, cometh the moan.
Britain – aka the wicked witch of Western Europe – will meet a sticky end, they excitedly claim, because there are no systems in place to simplify the problems of customs clearance.
As solutions providers, our readers are the polar opposite of these ghastly media munchkins. If you are a technology reseller, systems integrator or service supplier, you seize the opportunity by neutralising the threat. You don’t go on Newsnight and fantasise about your country grinding to a halt.
But is the Europe editor of the Daily Telegraph right? Are there no systems in place? Does nobody have a clue what’s going on? Is there no information to hand?
The vendors of traditional systems such as MultiFreight, Shippo, WiseTech and Freshdesk would disagree.
There are new systems coming to market too. The rationale of the new players is to provide the same basic service of the traditional systems makers, but make them much more user-friendly.
Vital information at your fingertips
For example, the cloud app Just Trade is designed to run on mobile handsets. This allows people to get answers to questions when they need them most: when they are in the depot away from a computer.
As they stand in despatch, they are desperately trying to get the customs declaration documents ready for each package, against a tight deadline. Each package is inevitably due for immediate collection by the freight forwarders, which will take it down to the ports.
This is one of the most crucial tasks in any export/import business. If you get any detail wrong, such as the wrong bill of loading for that battery component you are exporting to Finland, the goods may get held up in the port by a suspicious customs officer. The delay will eat into your profits. If you are exporting fresh produce to Europe, the hold-up may cause your entire shipment to spoil, rendering it useless.
Getting the details right is a life or death decision, and yet this job is often delegated by default to the office dogsbody, according to Sue Wright, managing director of Exporter Services, which adds value to these software systems by training people to do everything properly.
Just Trade is designed to sit in the hand and provide the answers to every export question you might have. It uses artificial intelligence and an interface to the regulations encyclopaedia, Tate’s Export Guide, to search for the answers about every category of customs regulation or cultural anomaly relating to every country in the world.
Software to soften the blow of Brexit
The newest system on the market is Duties Etc from S9 Technologies. The system is aimed at e-commerce retailers, exporters and importers, and logistics and express delivery agents.
Documenting overseas trade is a lengthy and complicated procedure, but Duties Etc can automate 95% of the process, according to managing partner Bashar Zeedan. It quickly finds the right commodity code, prepares the right declaration documentation, integrates with the systems of the client and automatically collects any duties and VAT where applicable.
Service providers can offer this through software as a service (SaaS) that sits in the back end of any operating system that receives data.
Nobody can be an expert on compliance, regulations and commodities – even under normal circumstances – as there are 1.5 million lines you’d have to memorise. The Duties database does that much more efficiently and can identify the right codes and customs declarations and automatically transmit the data.
If the knowledge and massive manual procedures were not hard enough, finding the right staff for this important and sensitive task is near impossible, according to Zeedan.
So there’s great demand for systems that will fix this problem before the October deadline.
Meanwhile, clumsy customs clerks will overpay duties, cause hold-ups and invoke storage costs and fines as shipments get detained in the ports. This will ruin the customer experience and devastate the cash flows and client bases.
Can Duties Etc soften the blow of Brexit? Will your systems need reconfiguring if Britain leaves without a deal?
“We designed our system with Brexit in mind,” says Zeedan. “We preloaded the database with the codes related to the 28 countries in the bloc, making our solution ready to calculate duties and VAT for the EU should we crash out without a deal.”
Meanwhile, the 100-odd countries outside the EU are already catered for, with a system that’s automated and fully compliant with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and every other trading standard.
“We are promoting our software mentioning this fact about Brexit and the readiness for a no-deal Brexit,” says Zeedan.
S9 wants partners that will add value to the product. The first priority is promoting it and creating more awareness. The moanstream media didn’t seem interested in that though.