Those innocents among us that believed the proponents of paperless trading were in it chiefly to save Amazonian rain forests were swiftly dispossessed of such romantic notions at the last of five Electronic Data Interchange briefings held in London last week. DEC’s Colin Osborne, who gave an overview and history of paperless trading stated, no, we haven’t all gone green: rather, Electronic Data Interchange will become a necessary condition for business survival in the 1990s. This is basically what the Steering Committee of EDI ’89, joint organisers of the EDI ’89 show later on this month, has been stressing for some time now, and last week two representatives of the export sector were speaking in favour of this view. British Airways was eager to point out the advantages of using the Electronic Data Interchange EDIFACT message standard – now it can deal through this system in areas outside the air cargo sector – but admitted that for reasons of legality, completely paperless trading is still some way off – a point made by UK Customs at a similar briefing a few weeks ago. Despondent Air freight forwarders AEI Pandair, whose $20m Logis value added network incorporates an estimated UKP200,000 per annum budget for its GEIS-accessed Electronic Data Interchange system, which it uses for trading with Goodyear, said that in its industry where apparently it is rumoured that a crate of cargo cannot be shifted until a crate of paper pertaining to that cargo has been produced – Electronic Data Interchange represents an enormous potential boon, but at the moment around 70% of paperless trading still has to be confirmed by a covering document people simply are not yet ready to trust it. However, it is perhaps too easy to become despondent about the problems involved in the realisation of a completely paperless trading environment: it could be that, as the Steering Committee fervently believes, Electronic Data Interchange will face the same resistance as did the telephone, and later the facsimile, in becoming an established business practice, but that future generations will see it as a business standard no less indispensible – or even more indispensible – than those other two inventions. Crucial in this respect, is the welcome given it by continental Europe. Concerns such as Du Pont, Volvo and Volkswagen are said to be interested, but according to Colin Osborne, there it is more a question of keeping quiet about it: in the UK, where significant investment on the infrastructure required has already been made, it is in companies’ interests to egg others on to follow suit, thus introducing a widespread standard: for the rest of Europe, where investment has been relatively small, firms are reluctant to talk about paperless trading projects, so as to maintain a potential business advantage. One outcome of the lack of Electronic Data Interchange infrastructure in Europe, continued Osborne, is the danger that the UK may see itself left behind: as a green field for future investment, Europe will be more ready to adopt EDIFACT from the start, and so overtake UK firms using older, less widespread, message standards. All this, and much more, will be discussed at the EDI ’89 conference to be held in London at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre from October 31 to November 2.
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