Have you ever ordered something online and then received an email from the parcel dispatcher (e.g. DHL, FedEx) telling you your package is stuck in customs? Usually you are then required to pay a customs fee, in addition to the price of the package, to release the package and your package arrives some time afterwards. Companies that manage to successfully prevent having their customers shoulder this annoying logistical weight have managed to do so by predictively addressing all potential customs clearance hold-ups. With globalization and the proliferation of product types, customs clearance has become a nightmare in international transportation logistics; enter CustomsPlus and their AI based software FastNet.
What is CustomsPlus?
CustomsPlus has a mission to deliver Automated Customs Technology, Compliance Services and Strategic Consultancy designed to make Customs interactions efficient. For its clients— retailers, wholesalers and third party logistics companies—its improves the customs clearance process by:
- Reducing the workload of customs clerks
- Reducing reliance on humans to track updates in global customs requirements
- Reducing the risk of errors, delays, penalties and fines; and
- Supporting global scaling of operations.
The three-pronged offering of products and services allows clients to rely on a nice mix of artificial intelligence and human centered recommendations to work with them through these challenges. Later in this post, we will of course focus on the artificial intelligence based tools the company offers to do most of the heavy lifting.
So what’s the challenge with customs clearance and where does CustomsPlus create value?
Customs clearance is one critical step in a product’s transit from the manufacturer to its final destination—several things could go wrong which add cost, time and inconsistency to a seller’s transportation and delivery projections. Here are some of the top issues that shippers face and that CustomsPlus addresses to create value:
- Inaccurate duties
- Incorrect cargo classification
- Consignee-related issues
- Incomplete documentation or document set
- Incorrect quantities or valuations
- Misunderstanding of rules of origin or destination
- Changed rules of origin or destination
- Inaccurate paperwork of one of the actors in the supply chain (freight forwarder, parcel forwarder, carrier)
As you might imagine, a lot of the above mistakes come about by human error. Geopolitical nightmares like Brexit make them even worse…if only there were machines that could fill out, review, and verify information so that oversights were not the cause of these costly missteps!
CustomsPlus offers six different AI based tools to do just that.
- FastNet extracts information from shipping documents required and produces compliant data. This improves accuracy and productivity and provides business growth opportunities.
- ColossNet evaluates the Harmonized Systems Codes, a standardized numerical method of classifying traded products, extracted from documents generated by FastNet, checks them for accuracy and, in the event of an error, finds the correct code to complete a compliant declaration.
- DeclareNet takes the verified and enriched data provided by FastNet and ColossNet and formats it to be automatically entered into Customs Declarations forms or the online declaration portal for your territory.
- GenevaNet is a highly secure archive that stores images of original documents: files of data extracted, records of operator actions and submitted declarations.
- TermaNet Dashboards deliver information on the customs clearance process in real time, enabling management to weigh-in on decision-making.
- MatriSC Supply Chain Audit App monitors your supply chain costs more broadly, not limited to transport. It provides information about all costs and impacts, including indicators of carbon footprint for inclusion in environmental impact statements.
These tools save some clients time and money, and for some clients moving their products across borders would not be possible at all without it.
What are the challenges and opportunities CustomsPlus faces, and what could they do differently?
Much of the customs clearance information and processes that exist today is not yet digital, and even though CustomsPlus offers AI automation, the AI relies on data input to train the models that, for example, read and learn the latest documentation requirements for a given country. Another challenge will be competition—FedEx for example has introduced digitization of declaration documents, a system that serves a similar function as FastNet but without AI. Whole countries even (Germany) require companies based there to use their centralized software system for declarations, again an example of valid competition with the digitization of this space, but the AI still sets CustomsPlus apart.
The company is quite small (10-50 people) with one based in Manchester, UK which seems too small an operation for this to compete with the larger players, so it may well be that acquisition would be an interesting alternative for the company. The website shares limited information about the value capture but suggests the sales team offers the CustomsPlus products for a fee.