The “black box” opened by DTLF

Connecting business processes across stakeholders in a supply chain data pipeline is beneficial and at the same time safe and secure. But the transport part is to be fully integrated in these pipelines … and preferably soon!

Supply Chains of world class manufacturers and traders of goods are steered by the value tools like Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Transport Management System (TMS). That is meanwhile a fact!

ERP is basically a data pipeline that integrates various organisational systems. It facilitates the information flow between all business functions. The data is shared across various departments in the company such as manufacturing, purchasing, sales, accounting, supply chain etc. with ERP also managing connections to external stakeholders, mainly suppliers of raw materials and customers. The system provides a continuously updated view of core business processes using common databases. ERP tracks business’ resources such as raw materials, production capacity, and an inventory next to  the status of business commitments: orders, purchase orders, shipments . The shipping part is mainly covered by TMS. All this together facilitates error-free transactions, production, and visibility thereby enhancing the organisation’s efficiency.

These tools increase supply chains visibility. However, it is not yet an “end-to-end” visibility since the shipping part is still too much of a black box or on some occasions even a Pandora’s box. There are many reasons for that: the still existing obligation to have paper transport documents, a lack of standards, protectionism of certain stakeholders etc. The consequence is uncertainty in the supply chain and this – as all know – adds up costs by, for example, increased and in a digital world useless inventories.

These users of ERP, TMS, and alike prove every day that connecting business processes across stakeholders is beneficial and at the same time safe and secure. These same users recognise that the shipping part is to be fully integrated in these pipelines … and preferably soon!

The European Commission, being aware of this challenge, launched an initiative in 2015 where this challenge is being looked at from a legislation, policy, and technical point of view. This initiative is called “Digital Transport and Logistics Forum”. DTLF counts about 100 members and was the headliner of the Digital Transport days in Tallinn already mentioned before in the previous newsletters. DTLF is expected to finalise its activities during 2018.

DTLF’s mission is, first, facilitating or even legislating the transition from paper transport documents to digital ones. Or even better, from documents to datasets! And second, facilitating the “construction” of the missing part in the already existing data pipelines (in DTLF language called Corridor Information Systems).

ESC’ role in DTLF
ESC runs the track regarding the dematerialisation of documents and together good progress has been made. Most of the documents for all transport modes have been mapped in terms of their role, regulation, and the opportunities to be used in a digital format. Soon recommendations with respect to “switch to digital” will start to take shape.

ESC participated as a DTLF member in the second track on the “Corridor Information System” (CIS).  Main purpose is that electronic data should flow seamlessly through supply chains. Public authorities and supply chain partners could reuse the relevant data. Sharing of data should become the rule or “digital by default”.

Making the CIS a tool for data sharing in supply chains and logistics can be done by (technology independent) infrastructure services having at the basis a network of platforms as well as peer-to-peer solutions. Certified participants that comply with the governance rules will therefore be able to join in a “plug and play way” and operate in a trusted, safe, and secure environment. No need to say that such a CIS will be the vehicle for sending the datasets as to the relevant parties.

ESC sees the absolute necessity and a bright future for collaborative and visible supply chain. Also in the new year we will contribute constructively to the DTLF’s objectives!

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