Global Supply Chain

6 Steps to Simplifying Global Trade Compliance Through Automation

Ned Blinick

Co-Founder, 3rdwave

If you are in Global Trade Compliance you are probably over-worked and under-appreciated. If this is your world you might want to read this article and find out how you can radically change your situation. If this is not you, read no further.Global Trade Compliance is complex and complicated. It is very labor intensive and most often under-resourced, poorly understood and under-utilized. Today, with automation, global trade compliance can be greatly simplified and the value to the organization dramatically increased. Here are 6 steps you can take to simplify your global trade compliance process:6 Steps to Global Trade Compliance Simplification through automation

  1. Get off of spreadsheets - get to a database. Without any doubt the greatest problem we hear from trade compliance professionals is that they spend so much time maintaining spreadsheets. Some spreadsheets we’ve seen are hundreds of thousands of rows (no exaggeration), 50+ columns across and 3-5 work sheets deep. This information is manually maintained. Spreadsheets are powerful tools for manipulating data and presenting wonderful reports, but they are notoriously poor for ensuring and maintaining accuracy. Storing your account or product data in spreadsheets is a recipe for tedious work and constant error correction. There are no real data validation tools, and certainly no audit control. Perhaps the greatest risk of using spreadsheets is that as they get bigger in size, the chances of them corrupting becomes much higher. Moving to a database, whether simply MSAccess or something more sophisticated will move your light years ahead. The database will also provide the infrastructure to start sharing your data and automating your activities.
  2. Reduce or eliminate manual data entry. Studies have shown that up to 80 percent of a Trade Compliance professional’s time is spent on data entry or transposition. Manual entry is time consuming and does not add value. If you are using spreadsheets, there is reasonably little you can do about reducing manual entry. Moving to a database will provide you options for removing the manual entry. There are solutions that provide ways to capture, transform, and send information from internal systems and external partners and service providers without manual intervention.
  3. Create repeatable procedure and standardized process. This is easier said than done. Repeatable procedures require a discipline that many organizations don’t have. The Compliance team is often the group that must deal with the lack of discipline by being flexible and able to handle poor data aggregation and different scenarios being thrown at it. Most often, this lack of discipline and control is subsequently passed on to a Customs Broker - which ultimately increases the cost of importing. Creating standardized procedures and process requires working with the business stakeholders to educate and control the data flows. It’s sometimes a long journey, but one worth taking.
  4. Support and service internal stakeholders. Internal stakeholders want nothing more than access to timely information that is accurate and self-serve. Most often, the information that the Trade Compliance group is able to provide is neither. Frustration grows from the business, and the Trade Compliance team is often seen as a roadblock rather than a benefit. Automation tools enable stakeholders secure access to information that they need to access information and facilitates their daily activities.
  5. Communicate effectively and collaboratively. An effective process requires efficient communication and collaboration with both internal and external stakeholders. Often, the information that requires sharing is repeatable and required on a timely basis. These activities can be executed most efficiently through automation. Again, this is quite difficult to do when on spreadsheets, but easily achieved using the right tools.
  6. Improve auditing capability. Audit allows you to understand how effectively you are executing. An audit enables you to measure (both qualitatively and quantitatively) how well your team (both internal and external) is operating against your expectation. This is a highly tedious activity to accomplish when your processes are not controlled, and can be very effective once you have documented processes, ensuring you can monitor and manage the work that is outsourced from your control.

Simplifying your compliance process through automation can be incredibly liberating as you progress down the path. It doesn't need to be expensive or particularly complicated to execute. It will increase your control, reasonable care and throughput. At some point, the time it takes to support your homegrown automation tools will outweigh the benefit. It is at that time that you should start investigating a GTM platform that enables you to progress further down the automation yellow brick road.Stay tuned! In a future blog we will discuss you how to sell automation for GTM and Trade compliance to Directors and VPs within your organization.