On Feb. 16, 2018, National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) and North American Export Grain Association (NAEGA) conducted a workshop in New Orleans to explore the potential for digitization of the paperwork and processes employed in the barge trade industry.
The workshop was attended by over 40 representatives from various sectors in the barge trade, including barge lines and operators; grain companies; exporters; trade, transportation and logistics consultants; and technology providers. The workshop focused on the numerous steps and multiple entities involved in the contracting, application, reconsignment, billing and other processes common in the barge trade. Because the documentation and current processes still are largely paper-based, they are time-consuming and costly. The resounding consensus of the participants at the workshop was that the industry should attempt to address the inefficiencies, unnecessary expenses and delays of the current system by pursuing alternative approaches based on employment of digitization and electronic transmission.
As a result, a task force of company representatives in the barge trade has been assembled and begun to consider what approaches to undertake for a new system. Initial observations about the new system include:
- The purpose of the new system would be to facilitate document transfers between trading counter parties. It is not to displace the verbal application of barges, but to ease transfer of documents once the verbal application has occurred. The new system will serve as a shared documents ledger with secured access.
- The new system should have ability to record trade-specific information; create, access, download and print bills of lading and various other documents; electronically sign documents and transfer ownership; receive electronic communications; and house and archive extensive documentation.
- Security is an important requirement.
- Cost is another critical component. The task force predicts that the costs of a new system will present a significant savings compared to the current processes.
- The new system would be designed to be used by all industry parties when transferring documents.
The work of the task force is still very preliminary. As part of their initial review, the task force is seeking input from other industry participants on the core requirements of a new system and any other feedback they should consider. Broad adoption by the industry is critical to achieving the maximum potential cost savings associated with the new system.