As our industry continues to develop, we require new technology in order to ensure shippers remain effective, efficient and competitive, says Gordon Tutt
AFSS Members provide the technology used in the movement of goods used by all modes of transport. With technology now playing a key part in all our lives it is important that access to all systems, static and mobile, is dependable. We have all experienced the frustration when a PC or laptop crashes, when our internet connections fail or our mobile devices cannot connect.
The ability to use technology and provide reliable access to these systems is even more critical, especially when it involves systems used in the movement of freight or as part of any logistics chain. Disruption to such systems used in running any business is more than just a frustration, it can be extremely costly and damage a company’s product and reputation. In recent months we have sadly seen examples of where the security of systems has been compromised and the impact of system failures. As our industry continues to develop new technology in order to ensure shippers remain effective, efficient and competitive in a very demanding market, reliability and security of these systems becomes a key factor. As the need for this technology increases so does the dependency on its reliability.
When systems fail the cost to business can be massive, not only in the decline in efficiency but also in getting the operation back to full speed. The ability to keep staff informed during any failures can be difficult as communication is often driven using those same services that may not be available. Communication with customers and suppliers is also important, especially when service failures occur following these events.
The shipper’s customers set their expectations high and require a service that is not only reliable and cost effective but provides visibility of the movement of goods.
Delays to the movement of goods and services can be costly to all parties in the distribution chain. The process of recovery also adds more costs to each party affected.
Disruption to the smooth running of any business is unfortunately easily achieved. The methods by which a shipper’s operation can be brought to a standstill can be many. Power loss, transport disruption, flood, adverse weather are only a few. Those which damage or remove you from your IT are even more serious. The longer the disruption the greater the time it takes to recover.
In recognising the costs any disruption causes, IT providers have developed a variety of additional services to help safeguard their customers. These services are diverse and wide ranging. Many of these will have been included in the package they sell to their customers. Software suppliers will ensure you have a reliable and high availability system that meets your needs but will also continue to develop and improve their systems.
Regrettably, disruption to IT systems can be as a result of malicious damage as well as technical failures.
Security within business systems and the networks that they operate is vital. IT providers can ensure the networks and access to their software is safeguarded from malicious external attacks. They can also ensure valid users have access only to those areas of the systems authorised. Management of staff access to systems is also important with a regular audit provided. Security of personal and commercial data is also a vital element in any system.
Contingency Planning has also become key in order to manage those type of events that are beyond the control of most companies. Almost on a daily basis we read in the national press about events which result in the evacuation of buildings due to fire, flood and accidents. I know from personal experience the serious disruption that results to any company that has had to leave their building at short notice due to events outside their immediate control. As a result of a major fire in an adjoining warehouse our building was evacuated and operations disrupted for almost 24 hours. Fortunately, despite the extent and speed with which the fire spread no deaths or injuries were sustained.
The operator of the warehouse in which the fire occurred was able to restart their business operations within 24 hours due to their contingency planning and the ability of their system providers to provide systems in an alternative location using the data and software held and backed up off site.
Disaster Recovery is often built into not only the systems you use but also in the networks over which they operate. Many system providers and networks will have an ability to switch over to an alternative back up system in the event that their prime site is not available. Many providers also have multiple power supply sources and an ability to switch their communication via a different route.
One new area which software providers are increasingly developing is the ability to use mobile networks to safeguard any disruption to business when access to the key systems used to run a business are disrupted. The ability to not only communicate within the company but maintain external communications with customers and suppliers can be offered using mobile technology whilst any disruption within the business is occurring.
Fallback arrangements are another area used in order to maintain operations when key systems such as CHIEF (Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight) and NCTS (New Computerised Transit System) are not available. AFSS members have been actively participating in recent years working on the provision of fallback arrangements with the Community Service Providers (CSPs) and HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs). The CSPs manage and run the port systems and have demonstrated over many years that they are able to offer a good reliable service at the ports and airports. Often as a result of external failures and planned outages their links to CHIEF are unavailable. The ability to continue export and import operations during any technical failure is key. Delaying the export of goods can be very costly not only for the shipper but to his customer. The recent disruption caused by an unplanned CHIEF outage clearly demonstrated the advantage of a Fallback system. With the future migration from CHIEF to the new Customs Declaration Service planned for 2017 it will become even more important to have a fallback option. Whilst the intention is to have a seamless move from CHIEF to CDS there is a risk of disruption to the service.
As a trade association representing the Software Suppliers to the Freight industry AFSS constantly presses for improvements to those UK and EU systems on which the shipper depends so heavily. Whilst continuity of service cannot always be guaranteed it is important that when the use of such systems are mandated in order for goods to be moved and exported there needs to be high levels of availability.
Not all systems provided by the various Government Agencies meet the service levels we would expect and seek. Whilst there is a constant effort by these agencies to improve their service levels this cannot be guaranteed. It is therefore important that we look for alternative electronic methods by which trader’s systems can be used during any planned or unplanned outage. The Trade Associations in the UK have an opportunity to meet and work with various Government Agencies and Departments to ensure there is adequate provision both now and for the future to keep trade moving. The UK Government has recognised the need to further develop the technology that links both trade and population to government services. This September HMRC hosted a conference with over 100 Software Providers attending, HMRC set out their plans for the future and were able to discuss future system developments within government taxation services. The HMRC team working on CDS are also meeting software companies on a regular basis and working with the industry towards developing and improving the implementation of this key project.
About the author
Gordon Tutt has been Chairman of the Association of Freight Software Suppliers (AFSS) since January 2013. The Association of Freight Forwarders represents 29 companies. The leading suppliers of freight, transportation, customs, internet and e-commerce systems to the freight services industry are members of AFSS. Prior to this role Gordon worked for British Airways World Cargo and formerly British European Airways Cargo for 43 years in operational and technical roles. As the Global Customs Systems Executive, Gordon worked to develop many of the systems which enabled British Airways to meet customs legislation throughout the BA network.