Point of View

The importance of data in DHL Express

18 October 2023
By Sandra Fischer, Asha Menon, Marcelo Godoy Rigobello, Global Customs & Regulatory Affairs, and Ben Bridge, Data Quality & Governance DHL Express

Quality data is the lifeblood of an efficient Customs clearance process. All Customs tasks and responsibilities are performed, at least in part, on the basis of data received from businesses engaged in trade – for example, data for purposes of revenue collection, risk management, admissibility checks, resource allocation and cooperation with other agencies, as well as the collection of statistical data for macroeconomic decisions.

In the express industry, data flows as follows:

To ensure that the data submitted by shippers (i.e. DHL customers) is of high quality, in other words, complete, correct and authentic, DHL has taken several measures.

Educating customers

Usually, express couriers’ shippers are their customers. They consist of big and small companies selling goods, as well as private individuals who may or may not be selling goods, or wish to return the goods they bought online.

Often, these companies and private individuals simply do not understand the data requirements and believe the data they provide is accurate when it is not. When the shipper is a business and a commercial invoice is required, he may understand the national regulations (of the export country), but not the specific requirements of the destination (import) country.

Shippers selling goods online typically provide the necessary commercial invoice data required to ship the goods to end-consumers. However, the end-consumers returning the goods (back to the seller) might not provide all the required data, or the data quality might not be optimal, posing hurdles in managing reverse logistics effectively.

It is, therefore, of utmost importance to ensure that shippers understand the importance of complete and accurate data. As part of this commitment, DHL Express has developed various customer education initiatives. Customers are engaged through face-to-face meetings, online webinars, roadshows, social media, and other communication channels.

Among the topics addressed during these activities are:

  • Customs regulatory requirements and changes
  • The importance of providing complete and accurate commercial invoice data
  • Potential implications of inaccurate/incomplete commercial invoice data, such as delays in transit times, clearance delays and unnecessary customer service contact to request the missing information.

Promoting digitalization and IT integration

There is another reason for data discrepancies and inaccuracies: businesses may operate different internal systems that are not seamlessly integrated to manage their logistics and rely on paper documents when dealing with express couriers. DHL Express does encourage its clients to implement data transmission processes so that data is provided electronically.

Certified Shipper Programme

In 2022, DHL Express introduced the Certified Shipper Programme. Originally, the programme aimed to enhance data availability, particularly the provision of commercial invoice data. In 2023, it focused on refining the content quality of the data, which proved pivotal in adapting to regulatory changes such as the abolishment of the VAT de minimis threshold in the European Union (EU), the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU (Brexit), and the second release of the EU’s Customs pre-arrival security and safety programme – Import Control System 2 (ICS2).

The programme has three core pillars:

  1. Governance: This phase emphasizes the definition of “good” data. Shippers learn what are the mandatory fields, the optional ones, and specifications like maximum length and whether they should be alphanumeric or numeric.
  2. Tools: With the governance rules in place, the next step involves aligning all systems – from front-end to back-end – with these rules. To ensure customers provide accurate data from the outset, several services have been developed, like the Global Trade Services Auto-Classification, which assists in classifying line item commodity details from commercial invoice data. Lastly, dashboards have been developed to provide a transparent view of data errors by customers, accounts, and countries. By identifying consistent problem areas, DHL Express can proactively address concerns, informing customers of issues and devising solutions.
  3. Customers: Customers engaged in the programme are informed about impending regulatory changes and data quality expectations, and are encouraged to use the tools mentioned above.

More than three million shipments a month are generated by certified shippers.

Getting support from Customs authorities

It is essential that express couriers and Customs authorities work together to support shippers’ compliance efforts.

Here are some key actions to consider:

  • Developing joint communication and training programmes for shippers: Customs authorities could collaborate with express couriers to develop communications and training programmes to educate shippers worldwide about the importance of providing complete and accurate commercial invoice data, ideally electronically. It is worth noting that the Recommendation of the Customs Co-operation Council on the Guiding Principles for Data Quality lists “Education” as one of the principles to follow to enhance data quality.
  • Empowering first-time shippers: the need for accurate Harmonized System (HS) codes, understanding of duties and taxes (landed cost), and knowledge of import requirements can perplex first-time shippers who have very little (or no) knowledge of international trade. The WCO could create a centralized online simulation platform where shippers could get information such as where to find nomenclatures, import requirements, and import regulatory charges per country.
  • Mutually beneficial incentives: Customs authorities could consider providing tangible benefits to express couriers and shippers who consistently maintain high data quality. These benefits could include expedited clearance processes, reduced inspections, and facilitation for Authorized Economic Operator (AEO) accreditation.
  • Developing the WCO Voluntary Compliance Framework (VCF): the section dedicated to data quality could be further developed, including recommendations for shippers, express couriers and Customs administrations.

Quality data is the bedrock upon which efficient and effective clearance processes are built. By joining forces, shippers, express couriers and Customs authorities could nurture a culture of data quality and collectively embark on a journey towards data excellence, which would secure benefits for all involved parties.

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