New solution providers – Bolero. Not really new, but a platform to digitise the trading world?

Continuing our series this week on interesting and innovative new players in the procurement and supply chain solutions space, but we're cheating somewhat today with Bolero. This is not a new business really, having been around since the end of the last Millennium! It was founded as an offshoot of SWIFT, the banking network, and the TT Club, to introduce a common platform for electronic trade documentation.

But I haven’t come across them before, and it was clear from our recent meeting that they are going through a period of change and are looking to re-invent themselves and build on historical success. They have an impressive new CEO in Ian Kerr, appointed in May, heralding we suspect a more dynamic approach to developing the business. Kerr has worked for and led a number of firms in both financial services and software, and seems a very good fit to drive Bolero forward.

Bolero are both leading-edge technologists, yet are also embedded in procurement and supply chain management processes that go back to the dawn of mankind - the sales and transportation of physical goods between countries, companies, or individuals, and the recording of these transactions, journeys and trades.

I confess that probably most of the time I think about procurement these days, my thoughts turn to services. Yet international trade in goods is absolutely massive, trillions of dollars or Euros a year. Hundreds of thousands of procurement and supply chain practitioners therefore have the issues around the physical movement and commercial administration of goods as a central concern. So for those people, and many other in business, the area in which Bolero operates is critical.

In simple terms, Bolero provides a cloud-based, software as a service platform that ‘dematerialises’ electronic trade documentation, such as bills of lading or letters of credit. Instead of physical paperwork, records are electronic. In terms of simple benefits - no more physical bundles of documents being shipped around the world and (occasionally) lost, stolen or damaged in transit (see picture – a genuine example of the inherent risk with paper documents).documents on pavement

And the complexity of the paper trail is huge – an average shipment has 36 original documents and 240 copies associated with it, and 27 different entities involved! So, as Bolero says, simplifying, automating and digitising this leads to benefits including :

  • Improvements in working capital, with better cash flow and effective credit line usage
  • Increased operational efficiency through the removal of paper trade finance and shipping documentation
  • Increased visibility, control and compliance across central and regional trade operations
  • Greater automation and efficiency of process around trade flows

But achieving this technically isn’t as straightforward as it first sounds. For instance, it is key to ensure that each party to the transaction can see only the information that is appropriate to them. You might not want to disclose every detail of your transaction to everyone involved in some way with it, and that has some interesting consequences for the system design. And the platform has to provide "legal certainty" because these are important contractual and financial documents.

There is over $80 billion a year in trade going through the Bolero platform in some sense, an incredible figure. And I suspect Kerr and his colleagues are thinking hard about what other services they could provide around their current offering, given that huge number. There would seem to be many opportunities, so watch this space, as they say ....

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