Earlier this summer (July 2021)
a news story explained how a Scottish fisherman, Jamie McMillan, had taken the decision to export his shellfish, caught off the Scottish coast, to Asia instead of across the Channel to near-by France. Why? Not for monetary gain, but purely because he faced
completing approximately 3 hours of paperwork, every day, to comply with the latest requirements for trading his catch with the EU, following Brexit and the UK’s decision to leave the EU and the free market.
Of course, new processes generally become more streamlined over time, as they bed in and become the business norm, so we might assume the paperwork required for trading with the EU will become less complicated. But Jamie’s story struck me and got me thinking,
how many other fishermen, indeed suppliers of any kind, now need to spend valuable time filling in forms and processing documents, which simply did not exist before Brexit? Is this part of the reason we are seeing empty shelves in supermarkets and our deliveries
are taking a day or two longer to arrive than they used to?
Although we have been bombarded with government announcements, telling us to ‘be prepared, Brexit is coming’. It is becoming clear that many suppliers did not really understand what that truly meant. How many voters voted for more paperwork, more regulations,
and empty shelves? Not many. How many businesses, like Jamie, were thinking:
- How am I going to find the capital to hire new employees to handle this new paperwork?
- How am I going to find the time to drive recruitment and bring any new employees up to speed with the complex business rules and resulting paperwork in my industry?
- How am I going to remember all the legislative ins-and-outs that ensure my produce is being traded in a fully compliant way?
- How will I be able to adapt my business to ensure I can carry on trading with EU countries and survive? Or perhaps, like Jamie, I should transfer my trade to non-EU countries?
For many businesses, solving their new paperwork problem can seem insurmountable. Not everyone can ignore the new challenges and divert their trade to areas with less stringent requirements. Indeed, the EU is an important, long-standing trade partner and
route for many British suppliers, so solving the paperwork issue and ensuring compliance is unavoidable, if they want to survive.
Thankfully, it is widely accepted that the Customs system is ideally suited for modern technologies, like intelligent automation and robotic process automation, due to it being largely built on moving records between one piece of software and another. Automating
the process could therefore decrease the amount of time it takes to fill out the relevant forms, as well as lessen the likelihood of forms being filled out incorrectly.
Automation technology is not just for big businesses. Just look at accounting. Businesses of all sizes are using some sort of automated tax reporting platform, even Scottish fishermen. The standardised nature of border processes mean businesses can and should
automate as many processes as they can before they, their products and services get to the border, whether it’s filling out customs forms, sending notifications, or providing paperwork to the relevant authorities. Built into an effective ERP, customs documents
and the additional paperwork required by the EU could be produced and verified at the touch of a button, or simply by sending one email, using rules-based automation.
For a start, almost all ERP systems can generate data-rich documents. This is an essential building block for full automation. The latest software can then extract line level data from an email and build in the appropriate rules for effective automation
and compliant documentation. Meaning that Jamie and his fellow traders spend less time filling out forms and are less reliant on older technology, such as OCR scanning, because the data included in their email can be collected exactly as it was inputted by
the original generating application.
Secondly, it is common practice for public sector organisations and legislative bodies (for example European international trade and customs departments) to use PEPPOL access points. Meaning that the XML file, which is generated after processing your emailed
documents, can be directly sent via PEPPOL to the relevant legislative bodies. This type of transfer is secure and is widely used throughout Europe; meaning Jamie’s trading partners in France will be able to process everything and pay him quicker too.
Whereas it used to be commonplace for onboarding onto these types of solution to be arduous and time consuming, there are now options which allow suppliers to get set up in days, without having to change any of their other processes.