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Ashley Klepach FourKites headshotAshley KlepachProduct Marketing Manager, FourKites

A crucial aspect of international shipping is document management. On average, an international ocean journey is 20 days long, requires between 9 and 18 documents, and in many cases requires upwards of 200 emails between parties to complete. If you don’t have these required documents completed accurately and submitted on time, it can delay your shipment, leading to high demurrage charges and impacting both customer satisfaction and profits.

It goes without saying, then, that document management is mission-critical for all organizations active in international shipping. In the final installment of our Supply Chainiacs series on international shipping, Glenn Koepke, SVP of Customer Success at FourKites, and Chris Stauber, VP of Product at FourKites, discuss the need for document management, repercussions for delayed or incomplete documents and how document visibility can provide value for organizations.


Which documents do organizations need?

International shipping comes with many requirements. These requirements come from regulatory bodies, countries’ legal regulations, safety requirements, the customers you are selling to and the suppliers you are buying from. Organizations that are shipping internationally need to answer three questions when it comes to their documents:

  • Which documents are required? 
  • Who is responsible for supplying and approving the documents?
  • When are they due?

The documents required for your shipment can vary greatly and depend on a number of factors, including country of origin, country of destination and the product shipped. For example, the Importer Security Filing (ISF) documentation is due 24 hours before the vessel departure. If the ISF forms are not completed and filed on correctly and on time, your product will not make it onto the vessel. If you don’t have these key required documents completed accurately and submitted on time, it can prevent your containers from being loaded, or it can lead to high demurrage charges, impacting both customer satisfaction and profits.

Challenges with document management

Customers that are moving a lot of goods will run into issues with demurrage and detention charges. These charges are substantial and can run into the millions of dollars. And while documentation will not solve all your demurrage and detention issues, it can eliminate unnecessary charges. Additionally, being able to keep track of documentation and who is responsible for completing and approving the correct documents is another key challenge. Many times, there are several parties involved, including internal and external parties and freight forwarders.

It should come as no surprise, then, that in a recent FourKites survey of senior supply chain leaders, 60% of respondents were seeking options for better document management.

Document visibility

According to the same survey, 34% of respondents used a completely manual process for managing their documents, while 60% used a mix of a manual and automated process.

Organizations that digitize their document process were shown to significantly improve document KPIs and reduce document errors, and the time needed to complete documents. Establishing clear processes for document management also helps to ensure that you are working with the correct parties to complete these documents correctly, on time and accurately.

One way to do this is through document visibility. Many logistics professionals are already aware of supply chain visibility, and that same level of transparency should be brought to the document management process. Document visibility solutions give organizations a digital hub to manage documents, define workflows and assign tasks for parties to complete and identify the correct documents required. These solutions drive significant value and ROI when it comes to operational savings, profits and customer satisfaction — the most important measures of ROI for survey respondents in senior leadership positions.

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For those organizations who are involved in international shipping, document management is a crucial aspect of keeping shipments on time, customer satisfaction high, reducing demurrage and detention charges, and realizing efficiencies. As COVID-19 and port congestion continue to wreak havoc on global supply chains, organizations must find ways to gain a competitive advantage, and supply chain efficiency — driven in large measure by document management — is becoming an increasingly important differentiator.

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