A digital roadmap for change

Earlier this year, FIATA launched a renewed digital strategy to accompany freight forwarders in the overall digital transformation of the industry. A special working group of experts has built a roadmap based on the core mission and values of FIATA. 

The digital strategy includes four main areas of action, all aiming towards the seamless exchange of data between FIATA members and their partners. (1) Ensure a network of trust among freight forwarders and their partners. (2) Adopt digital standards in data exchange. (3) Promote interoperability between software platforms. (4) Increase industry intelligence based on data. 

The implementation of the strategy will be executed through several projects, which will heavily rely on the participation of all key stakeholders, namely National Associations, industry experts, international organizations, software and services providers, and FIATA’s dedicated Advisory Body of Information Technology (ABIT). This collaborative approach will ensure that all fundamental needs are covered and the feasibility proven, as these are the two key factors for largescale adoption. The strategy’s goal is to use digitization processes and technology in the four areas listed by defining digital certified identities, standard documents and data formats used in everyday freight forwarding. 

A focus on interoperability 

The first projects, launched in June 2020, constitute the necessary building blocks to the definition of interoperability data standards. These are the creation of a certified digital identity registry for FIATA members and the online data and document templates library. This registry should be accessible to all industry business partners (agents, carriers, customs, trading partners, etc.) and allow authentified and secured communication. Digital identities act as digital passports and are key enablers to secure the exchange of electronic data. The online data and document templates library aims to distribute and digitize key documents, such as the FIATA Bill of Lading. As an immediate benefit, freight forwarders will have access to up-to-date standard documents, applying the latest best practices. 

Three drivers of the strategy

FIATA interviewed three key stakeholders to get their perspective on ABIT’s role in defining and implementing the digital strategy, the benefits for the freight forwarding industry, and the next steps that will bring the strategy to life.

ANNE SANDRETTO, ABIT CHAIR

Why is FIATA’s digital strategy important for freight forwarders?

Anne Sandretto: Freight forwarding companies, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), need to join collective initiatives to adapt to the evolution of their businesses, embrace innovation and remain competitive. FIATA, as a neutral international organisation, must define a digital strategy for the transport and logistics industry, by forging the necessary partnerships, not only to preserve the role of its members but also to better accompany them on this new journey.

How did the work of ABIT contribute to the definition of the strategy?

AS: ABIT’s professionals bring their expertise from the digital world to our sector. The collaborative work carried out with business experts from FIATA institutes enabled us to analyze the economic and political environment, as well as the projects impacting – and sometimes challenging – the field of transport and logistics. We were able to define the needs of our members, which were incorporated in the recommendations shared with the FIATA Secretariat and submitted to the Presidency, which then approved the new digital strategy at the end of May.

How can ABIT support the implementation of the various projects?

AS: ABIT will be able to capitalize on the work it’s done over the past few years, conducting market and legal environment studies, an analysis of FIATA members’ needs, and internal pilots and workshops carried out with digital solution providers and other major public / private players. ABIT members will actively participate in the multidisciplinary working groups needed to implement the strategy.

JENS ROEMER, REGIONAL MANAGING DIRECTOR OF A.HARTRODT, FRANCE, BELGIUM, SWITZERLAND 

What are the biggest risks facing the industry with the digitalization of the supply chain?

Jens Roemer: Our industry has a few significant characteristics: 

  • The majority of firms are SMEs.
  • Whilst the nature of the business is global, most companies rely on agents for global network coverage.
  • Business is very scattered.

We own and control far more data than airlines or shipping lines do, when it comes to the global supply chain. But we’re currently struggling to communicate and connect with partners, who aren’t necessarily using the same transport management system. This is the main challenge – freight forwarders must find ways to exchange data globally, across systems and in consistently good quality. 

How will FIATA’s digital strategy help freight forwarders?

JR: The strategy must allow the global community of forwarders to:

  • exchange data internally between forwarders and externally with partners;
  • protect members’ data in terms of ownership and cybercrime;
  • rely on professional, well-managed and truly neutral solutions.

How, in your opinion, are FIATA’s digital projects positioned vis-à-vis other stakeholder’s initiatives?

JR: FIATA still has some catching up to do. We’re late, but not too late. The advantage is that a FIATA ecosystem will unite a global community and will enable many SMEs to enter the digital world, allowing them to compete with other stakeholders that have the resources to invest in their own overall global systems. Combining a professional and experienced forwarder’s services with solutions that are ‘digitally enabled’ by a FIATA ecosystem of global forwarders will make for a successful supply chain manager.


LUCELIA TINEMBART, FIATA DIGITAL PROJECTS OFFICER

What next steps are foreseen to implement this digital strategy?

Lucelia Tinembart: As agreed by the Presidency, we’ve started working on the first two projects that are part of the Digital Strategy Roadmap. To do so, two working groups are now being formed for each project, focusing on specifications and governance respectively. Each working group will include FIATA / ABIT members, independent technical advisers as well as IT providers.

A call for participation was made at the last ABIT meeting, but the FIATA Secretariat welcomes all suggestions and participation proposals. Please contact me at tinembart@fiata.com if you are interested in getting involved. 

The project team also started to engage with several organizations (including IATA, SITA and UNECE) that are running similar digital projects, to identify possible opportunities to collaborate with these organizations.

We will share regular updates about the progress made on both projects through the FIATA e-Flash newsletter and future editions of the FIATA Review.

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