Computer says “No”
How trade and transport data are used to optimize supply chains
By Ben Radstaak, Director Innovation & Compliance, Air Cargo Nederland, tevens lid van de ICC Commission on Customs and Trade facilitation en lid van de ICC Working group on Identity Management
Data missing. Check sanction list. Certificate required. Dangerous goods declaration is incomplete. Illicit trade risk detected. Just a few of the possible alerts on the screens of some freight forwarders in 2025. The alerts are automatically generated by the intelligent control tower at the heart of the IT system that the forwarders use. Actually, it’s not a tower but a platform connecting the employee’s work station to all kinds of data in a myriad of other systems.
The platform doesn’t just connect the systems of exporters, importers, carriers, and other service providers to the forwarder, but also with those of customs and other enforcement agencies. These are used for things such as the automatic collection of duties and taxes, food safety, illicit trade and dual-use control, checking of trusted trader databases, global sanction lists, money laundering prevention and IP abuse.
This is a picture of the near future but let us get back to current events. Trade and transport data are increasingly used to optimize supply chains in terms of costs, speed, reliability, capacity utilization, tracking and tracing to serve the customer in the best way. This is a prime concern for all parties in the value chain. Data is also used for customs compliance, security and safety, and emissions reductions. Many of these applications are still in development, some have just been taken into consideration.
At Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, a lot of shipment information is exchanged digitally, but far from everything. This is because some countries still mandate paper Air Way Bills, most health certificates are only issued and accepted on paper, legacy systems of various parties don’t allow real-time data exchange and most importantly, people’s habits are hard to change.
Nevertheless, due to compliance concerns, parties in international supply chains must do more to capture shipment data and investigate in advance what they will be transporting. To facilitate this, the air cargo community at Schiphol developed the so-called eLink system to support the export acceptance process.
However, this system is not used by all relevant parties. So while digitization increased due to the rise of e-commerce, the uptake in air cargo was quite slow. The coronavirus is currently changing this because of the need to minimize human contacts. No more queuing of drivers at the documentation desks, bypassing will instead be the standard way of working at Schiphol.
In addition, digitally pre-announcing the trucks planned for delivering export shipments or picking-up imports will become a prerequisite for speedy loading and unloading. The ground handlers have committed themselves to offer a fast lane to all accepted pre-announced trucks.
But there’s more to it. To prepare for more effective and efficient enforcement of increasingly complex and rapidly changing rules and regulations, more detailed shipment data needs to be available, shared, and analyzed in real-time. For that reason, IATA, the global airlines association, has changed its focus from replacing paper documents by electronic versions to developing a common data-sharing model working with secured APIs: the so-called ONE Record standard data model. The vision: end-to-end digital logistics and transport supply chains where data is easily and transparently exchanged in a digital ecosystem of (air) cargo stakeholders, communities and data platforms.
Sharing all detailed shipment data electronically and checking compliance automatically is easier said than done. Next to a standard data model, you need to be able to identify external parties in the value chains and agree on how access to data is arranged and safeguarded. This should preferably be done via global standards as well, such as the global Legal Entity Identifier (LEI) and iShare.
The LEI was initiated by the G20 and set up by the Financial Stability Board in response to the financial crisis. It is a 20-character alpha-numeric code that connects the key reference data that enables a clear and unique identification of legal entities participating in (financial) transactions. The LEI has the potential to become the global standard for identifying legal entities in all international value chains, especially for compliance purposes and trusted trader facilities.
iShare was developed in the Netherlands to make data sharing secure and effortless. iShare is a uniform set of agreements that enables organizations to give each other access to their data. Since they all work with the same identification, authentication, and authorization methods, there is no need to keep making new agreements every time they want to share data. Participants in the iShare scheme maintain full control over their own data at all times. Moreover, they have the final say about the terms under which their data will be shared, why, with whom, and for how long.
With rising geopolitical tensions, compliance challenges tend to rise, leading to higher costs and more headaches for compliance officers, especially in multinational corporations. Hence, it is high time to establish public-private partnerships in order to connect trade and supply chain platforms of the international business community to the systems of customs and other enforcement agencies.