Marine Transport International, a company founded by ex Maersk Line and Kuehne+Nagel trade manager Jody Cleworth, has launched a software platform that aims to help shippers reduce the costs and processes associated with verified gross mass (VGM) requirements. The VGM regulations, introduced in July, have created what some are estimating to be a $4bn market, as different players within the sector add charges to manage the increased paperwork. Many of these charges default directly to shippers, adding increased pressure on companies already having to commit resource to managing the VGM process.
The platform, called SOLASVGM, helps shippers to cut time and costs spent on VGM applications by allowing them to access and share the required information with all concerned parties quickly. Some, such as paper exporter Cycle Link, have seen a significant benefit, with the firm able to reduce the amount of resource it commits to dealing with VGM processes.
“SOLASVGM is designed with shippers in mind, by creating a landside ecosystem which will connect all parties electronically,” Cleworth explains. This is done through a distributed network, which is enabled by the blockchain, a public ledger where transactions are recorded and can be shared with multiple parties without needing to go through a central point. That means information can be shared quickly and securely. Blockchain is a core component of the digital currency bitcoin, but SOLASVGM is the first blockchain enabled platform for the shipping industry.
Another feature of the product is that it can plug into existing systems, such as EDIFACT.
“For shippers this is a significant benefit, as it gets rid of the requirement to have to send duplicate information to different players – whether carrier, port or forwarder – involved in each stage of the VGM process,” Cleworth tells Maritime CEO.
“The shipping industry is very good at worrying about something, and then just getting on with things imperfectly,” Cleworth maintains. “The historic nature of the sector is for the major players to dictate how everyone else is going to do things,” says the ex-Maersk man, “whether they’re a global forwarder, a deep sea carrier or a multinational port operator. That means the big guys don’t need to adjust their systems significantly, and the shippers and cargo owners are left to pick up the tab.”
As he sees it, VGM implementation went seemingly smoothly thanks in part to the three month ‘soft touch’ period following July 1, but actually it’s just meant that shippers that don’t comply with individual service provider requirements have to pay to get things right.
“That might not seem so onerous,” Cleworth says, “but when you consider that even smaller shippers might deal with five or six carriers every week, that’s suddenly a significant chunk of time and effort gone on one regulation.”
Cleworth argues, “VGM is regulatory-driven enabler for the digitalisation of our industry.”
The next major product Cleworth’s team is working on is COMSHIP, an online booking platform that is also enabled by blockchain. As with SOLASVGM, its being developed in partnership with Big Data business Black Swan, and will allow users to search for rates, book with carriers and store all the necessary documentation for their shipments, accessible anywhere in the world via mobile, tablet or PC.
“There have been numerous online booking platforms, some owned by carriers and others independent, but none using blockchain – this means we avoid costly infrastructure and in turn make the platform accessible to COMSHIP users, without them needing to have specific proprietary software or systems,” Cleworth concludes.