Technology and Collaboration Lead the Future of Global Trade

Flexibility, real-time collaboration, diversity, scalability and automation fuel winning trade strategies

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Changes in geography, sectors and the supply chain are shifting the way global trade companies do business. Today, the Internet is more accessible throughout the world, competition is increasing, and the focus has shifted to being nimble and highly responsive to the market demands in choosing those partners that can provide the highest quality at the best price and terms.

These changes in the supply chain have created an “importers market” of sorts in which importers are driving the industry and competition, and are requiring tighter collaboration from partners.

Looking into 2014 and beyond, technology will continue to play a pivotal role in this transformation. With the accessibility of the Internet, a parts manufacturer in China will have the same level of access as one in India or even the United States, and an exporter from virtually anywhere in the world can take a photo of a product, scan it and transfer funds, all from the comfort of his or her couch at home, to the other side of the globe.

And the market for supply chain software is large and diverse in offerings and growing. Gartner predictions put the supply chain software market at more than $9 billion in 2013, up 7.7 percent from 2012. Meanwhile, global trade has been growing by an average of 9.5 percent a year for more than six decades, according to a recent Cushman & Wakefield white paper, “The Changing World of Trade,” which predicts by 2021, the total global trade figure could reach $45 trillion. This alone provides endless opportunities for businesses. Those who take advantage of available technology will no doubt reap the benefits of this exponential growth.

Winning global trade strategies will demand flexibility, diversity, scalability, real-time collaboration and automation. If there is one word for the future of supply chains in 2014, it is “one”—one central platform/repository to collaborate and share information online and across the organization and its channels.

Companies will continue to seek out processes and solutions, moving forward, that enhance deeper collaboration and communication with partners, and facilitate centralization of information across partners, departments and functions within an organization. With advanced technology solutions, companies no longer have to work off of paper documents to enter data into their existing silo systems.

Web-based technologies available today and in the future will allow for partners across the globe to log into the same system (with manageable and limited access and security) to enter the data. This saves time and money, and reduces the likelihood of errors. These solutions will also help companies manage the complex regulatory filing and documentation needs, with partners specific to each country in virtual real time, as if they were right next door.

Smart technology offers the promise of improved supply chain management, compliance, partner relationships and cash flow. And, as technology continues to make international trade possible for developing countries, competition and opportunities will also rise. Companies that don’t want to be left behind will need to rely on strong, tight-knit collaboration with partners online.

Having one centralized, web-based technology platform enables importers and their partners to store and share data across several functionalities, including imports and exports, and to also take advantage of, and manage, programs such as Foreign Trade Zones, free trade agreements, corporate responsibility initiatives and Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT).

A centralized platform allows companies to effectively manage data for all their clients, as well as handle different transactions and entries for customs, whether in Timbuktu or China.

These web-based platforms will also reduce weak links in the supply chain and fuel real-time collaboration with partners. The days of having clients install client-server applications with thick clients on each machine are gone. In today’s evolving global marketplace, web-based tools can help companies choose partners to meet their ever-changing market demands easily, while maintaining secure transactions and partnerships by limiting access to relevant information.

In order to remain competitive, companies must continue to embrace next-generation platforms and capitalize on this technology shift. Many businesses are still not using these technologies to their full potential—importers will start insisting that their partners actively engage in collaborating with their global web-based trade management platforms to enter, share and provide information.

It helps to have a champion within the organization to take a leap of faith and tap into the benefits of higher automation and more collaboration with partners through these platforms. Companies that are ahead of the technology curve will reap the benefits of increased trade and personnel productivity, stronger partners and a healthier bottom line.