The future of logistics is digital. Freight forwarding companies ask for reliable solutions to speed up messaging, data transfer and for a guaranteed smooth processing of data. Software providers are emphatically working on digital solutions to cover every aspect of the supply chain. We talked to Herman Teering, Managing Director at DGOffice about changes in the industry, recent EU-level projects and the company’s approach towards digitalization in logistics.

Digitalization has become an important factor in logistics nowadays, what has changed over the past years in terms of dangerous goods handling?

“Well, change is definitely happening but very slow. If we're looking at air cargo forwarding, the process of digitalization goes a little further back but in general it's slow and more business driven. It started with inter-company exchange of data, where the companies basically digitized everything, from the moment that you book a shipment until it arrives and that's where you now have a full visibility of the chain of where your packages are or what is happening to it. If you compare it with other modes of transport, the change is visible. If you're looking at the business models like dangerous goods handling, it's still largely paper driven. There are a few initiatives to change that. DG Office of course is part of that change developing processes and standards for data exchange to help our customers move forward and where necessary we adapt to what is pushed into the market from authorities or from other business organizations. Our customers are located all over the world, we handle all modes of transport on a global way, so we try to bring that together and always think not just of a single mode of transport, we always think multimode.”

Are there any interesting current projects on digitalization of freight forwarding in the EU DGOffice participates in?

“Recently there have been some changes in airline messaging. Most companies transferred from the old Cargo-IMP towards Cargo XML and now with the One Record initiative, I also see that a lot of governments, especially the German government, are interested into getting forward in terms of digitalization. One of the most recent initiatives released on EU level is the electronic freight transport information (e-FTI), a standardized format everybody around the globe can use, which makes it a lot easier to process data. Those standards are more or less developed and discussed on a higher level and I think at the end when the e-FTI, a standardized way of sharing information is implemented, it will hopefully help speed up things. I hope that one day these will also apply for the international trade lanes and not just focus on road transport or inland waterways within Europe but also take care of the more international standards like sea freight and air freight. It would be great if we come up with a common standard that is accepted all over or accepted between the member states within the European Union at least. Talking about Airfreight, the only thing which has not been digitalized in the whole shipment declaration documentation process is the Notification To Captain (NOTOC). Right now it is an NOTOC Message (NTM) that is sent from the airport handling agent manually and is meant to get the NOTOC data into a format that can be loaded onto an aircraft computer, but it's not even close to a digital format yet. In the end what you're doing with a NOTOC is simply manifesting the data that is delivered from earlier partners and grouped together for the flight. One important factor in this transformation towards a more digital approach is the acceptance process. The Dangerous Goods Declaration, of which the NOTOC is just one simple part, is still a legal document that needs to be supplied in case of an incident. If only a few participants throughout the supply chain accept the digital format, you are simply not able to have the full process in place. We need to have investments, systems need to be replaced or updated. At that point what we can do as IT-companies is to establish functioning systems for our customers and help them move forward and push the transformation to a digital age.”

Which digital standards do handling companies or airlines expect from you as a software provider for dangerous goods handling?

“We did a market survey by the end of last year. We talked with our customers and asked them questions, like, what are you doing with digitalization? What are your expectations? Where do you think you're going, and what would you like from us? Well, where they think they were going is indeed an increase in the use of digital formats, a digital shifting from traditional paper document exchange to electronic data. In the end it's a difficult process and cost is always an issue. We try to develop and offer solutions to customers integrated into the system and lower the amount of effort that needs to be put in on the customer side to make it work. The most important part is to prove that the solutions work. Another important part is acceptance. We still see, if we speak about Europe, differences within the member states implementing new technologies or document formats. What we can do as a company, is make sure that we offer solutions to the customers by supplying the tools and adapting to whichever standard is required. I think from an automation point of view that's what we are good at and the same applies to Riege Software. We’re good at supplying tools to our customers and make sure that they can do their business. We comply that we have the tools ready for them to use whenever they need them.”

DGOffice is part of the Dangerous Goods Transport Information Network Association, which aims at fostering more efficient exchange of electronic information in transport and logistics. Can you give us some insight into the latest achievements?

“The Dangerous Goods Transport Information Network Association (DGTINA) is a group of experts, whom are currently working on the digitalization of the dangerous goods transport by road (ADR) inland waterways (ADN) and rail (RID). The working group establishes a standard in Europe that makes electronic shipment information instantly available for authorized public bodies. For example for emergency responders when an incident happens or authorities who need the information for an inspection. Included in this group are participants, who are working for governmental consultancy companies and who are part of the DTLF (Digital Transport & Logistics Forum), which is triggered by the European Commission. Right now the forum is focusing on the eFTI (electronic freight transport information), a regulation adapted by the EU in June 2020. Interested parties can start building applications and in June 2024 we hopefully will have the first set of electronic freight transport information, which is another important step towards the digital future in logistics.”

There has been a noticeable transformation towards the use of clean and renewable energy in the transport industry, how is this trend affecting your company approach?

“Climate change and the use of clean energy is gaining more awareness in the transport industry. One of the things that can help to reduce the footprint, is to reduce the amount of paper that is used throughout a shipping process. But also speeding up and getting information sooner and more complete by digitizing the data exchange can help to reduce a company’s footprint. Reliable Software Solutions for freight forwarding companies play an important role in the whole digitalization process as we support our customers with the necessary systems and tools to step into the future of logistics.”