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EssDocs: ‘The world is moving to paperless’

London: From seafarers in the age of sails to the era of the Golden Greeks and beyond, the name Goulandris calls to mind how shipping evolved through the generations.

There’s therefore something fitting about the fact EssDocs, founded by its ceo Alexander Goulandris in 2005, is helping take the traditional business of shipping through its next step change from paper to electronic bills of lading (eBLs).

“The reality is that all these companies are now being overtaken by these owners’ sons and daughters,” Goulandris says of the new blood overhauling the conservative-minded shipping industry. “This is a generation that sits in front of a Bloomberg terminal and uses a laptop, and thinks telex is so sweet and antiquated. It’s a different generation that’s looking at it in a different way.”

Shipowning has always been conscious of controlling its costs, he continues, but sometimes this misses the point.

“I think eBLs give you the wider picture, which I think the next generation is just more attuned to looking for,” he tells Maritime CEO. “They look for opportunities because most of them are not doing business the same way their dad did. Most of these guys went off, they did an MBA, they went to business school, they might have worked for a merchant bank, they might have worked for other shipping companies.

“I think the public markets and the professionalisation of the shipping industry makes people look at shipping in a different way and say ok, how else can I save costs? How can I optimise vessel utilisation? And when you start to look at vessel utilisation and human utilisation, you start to then go, ok, the inefficiencies of paper are costing me a lot of money. I think there are a lot of changes in shipping that I think these new guys get much better.

“If you can get your vessel out and turn it around faster, it’s not laying up waiting for documents, then that means you’re improving the ROI [return on investment] on what is a very expensive capital investment,” he says.

Preventing delays at the berth or jetty also saves costs incurred for terminal operators.

“The world is moving to paperless – no-one wants to deal with paper, so you have no option but to digitalise your business at some point. So the question is, is it better to do it now? Is it better to wait or not?” Goulandris says.

The move towards electronic documentation is gathering pace. EssDocs says over 2,100 firms, including 10% of Fortune Global 500 companies, now use its electronic documentation products.

In March, agri-trader Bunge signed a multi-year agreement with EssDocs to use CargoDocs eBLs and supporting electronic documentation on all its grain and oilseed shipments. Before implementing the system, Bunge trialled it last year on grain shipments from Brazil, Argentina and the United States to Spain, Italy and Vietnam.

Barges operating in the Amsterdam-Rotterdam-Antwerp (ARA) port range will also be using eBLs before the end of 2015. EssDocs got into the barge business a couple of years ago and operators now use the system to automate timesheet information for calculating demurrage.

The container shipping market is proving a harder nut to crack, however. Producing house BLs for container carriers is a very interesting market, Goulandris says. It’s also a very big market with consolidation happening between companies all the time, which makes eBLs less attractive while companies endeavour to keep their costs base down during M&As. Nevertheless, EssDocs is breaking through, and several big-name container lines are currently trialling the system.

“So far we’ve done some work around the world with NYK Line, MOL and PIL,” Goulandris says. “We’ve done some chemical cargoes, some agri cargoes. We’re just about to start doing some metals cargoes in containers. In the next quarter I think you’ll see another three container lines go live with us.

“It’s just a better way of doing business,” Goulandris tells Maritime CEO. “The more important question is: why wouldn’t you do it electronically?”

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