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[Interview] Webb Fontaine’s Pascal Minvielle on the company’s new products and plan for Africa


Webb Fontaine has significantly expanded its presence in Africa in recent years.  The company is a leading provider of solutions for Trade facilitation, powered by the latest technology including artificial intelligence.

Webb Fontaine develops new-generation IT systems that take Trade and Customs processes to the next level for the benefit of the global trading community.

In this interview, we speak to Pascal Minvielle who is based in Dubai and serves as the COO of the company. Pascal talks about their new line of products and the company’s plans for the African market. 

Can you describe some of the products you’ve introduced there?

We have launched a range of technological solutions across the continent, including Customs Management Systems (Webb Customs), Single Window platforms for trade (Webb Single Window), Port Community Systems (Webb Ports), and GPS tracking platforms for transiting trucks (Webb Transit Tracking).

These innovations are designed to enhance the efficiency of customs and port logistics, secure revenue, and improve trade facilitation and regulatory compliance. Our solutions are present in the following African countries: Egypt, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Benin, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Niger.

Other countries in the pipeline? What’s the rationale for picking these countries?

The company has a long-standing connection with both East and West Africa, starting with our first contract in Nigeria in 2005. Additionally, we have a presence in Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia.

Your Port Community System (PCS) has been pivotal in transforming port logistics and trade facilitation. Can you explain how the PCS operates?

The PCS by Webb Fontaine (Webb Ports) acts as a digital hub, connecting all stakeholders involved in the logistics of ports and airports to manage the release of each cargo. It facilitates the exchange of documents, data, and operational instructions between entities such as the Port Authority, Shipping Agents, Customs, Cargo Handlers, and Freight Forwarders with the objective of releasing the container or other loading unit from the point of discharge from vessel to exiting the port, same applies to exports but until cargo is loaded on the vessel or plane. 

Among the different documents which are needed to release import consignment we have the Delivery Order for example which is posted online by the shipping agent on the platform, so the nominated freight forwarder takes over for releasing the cargo: pay fees online, Customs taxes, assign a trucking company, etc.

As far as the payments are concerned (e.g. container handling fees, demurrage, Port Authority fees, Customs taxes, etc.), they are all performed online through the platform using our payment facility Paylican which is considerably speeding up release times.

Once all release conditions are met using electronic authorizations from various stakeholders (Shipping agent, payment beneficiaries, Port, Customs), the PCS sends an electronic release authorization message to the terminal operator for each container, bulk cargo, or vehicle, indicating that it can leave the port. The PCS transforms previously manual, disjointed processes into streamlined, centralized operations. This centralization allows the release of cargo on the same day the vessel arrives at the port.

How do the PCS and Customs Systems interact?

The PCS integrates smoothly with Customs Systems like Asycuda and Customs Webb from Webb Fontaine, as well as other customs platforms for which we have designed integration toolkits. This integration facilitates the seamless exchange of customs declarations and cargo manifests between the two systems. 

For instance, the PCS tracks whether duties and taxes have been paid for declarations.  In addition, Customs administrations uses the PCS module to authorize specific operations which are not featured within the Customs system, such as transshipment requests, stripping operations, container transfers from Port to container depots.

How much is PCS saving governments in revenue by tracking whether taxes have been paid? Does not have to be a specific figure….just revenue has gone up by xxx% with the implementation of PCS

There has been a noted 15-20% increase in revenue directly attributed to the implementation of the PCS. This is because the release procedures are now stringent and must be followed by the entire trading community without exception. Another aspect is the enhanced attractiveness of the port, which leads to a higher volume of goods being channelled to the hinterland, thereby boosting the country’s revenue.

How is the PCS propelling digitalization efforts in African countries and positioning them as leaders in the global maritime industry?

The PCS accelerates digitalization in Africa by enabling electronic data interchange and real-time communications among port stakeholders. It features a comprehensive electronic payment system that connects all local banks as well as the central bank for reconciliation. This advanced system has helped African ports enhance their competitiveness in the global maritime industry, as evidenced by Benin’s rise in the World Bank’s Logistics Performance Index, where it now ranks as West Africa’s leading port.

Many ports in Europe and Asia still rely heavily on manual processes to release cargo. It is surprising to see that the PCS has achieved greater automation in emerging countries like Benin compared to most ports around the world.

Who are the main stakeholders benefiting from the PCS?

Key users of the PCS include port authorities, customs officials, freight forwarders, terminal operators, shipping agents and shipping lines as well as import/export companies. It’s important to note that the number of users of PCS in a country is counted in thousands. For example, in Benin and Guinea, the total number of PCS users amount to 10,000. The PCS improves coordination and operational transparency, further supported by Webb Fontaine’s Single Window for trade (Webb Single Window), which processes licenses, permits, and certificates as preclearance transactions.

Expound on economic benefits to the stakeholders- cost-cutting, time-saving..can this be expressed in terms of money the stakeholders are saving through the use of PCS?

Supply chain transparency for all stakeholders, enabled by the PCS, is a significant benefit. The transparency of port fee tariffs published by the PCS is also a major advantage, especially considering that transparent pricing was not available before the PCS implementation.

Which African countries are quickly adopting the system to minimize paperwork and bureaucratic delays in port logistics? Are there any notable success stories?

Webb Ports, the PCS of Webb Fontaine is currently operational in Guinea, Ivory Coast, and Benin, with the latter showcasing a comprehensive implementation that spans sea, air, and land transit routes.

A case study we can cite?

As a case in point, Benin utilizes all the products developed by Webb Fontaine, which seamlessly integrate with each other: the Customs system, PCS, Single Window for trade, and Classification and Valuation. This makes Benin a showcase in the region.

What are the potential CO2 savings from using the PCS, given the increasing importance of sustainability in port logistics?

The PCS significantly reduces CO2 emissions by cutting down on the need for physical paperwork and transportation. This efficiency decreases the time that ships and cargo spend at ports or waiting for berthing allocations at sea.

Can you discuss the level of collaboration and engagement among port stakeholders in countries where the PCS is actively used?

In countries where the PCS is deployed, we observe a marked increase in collaboration and engagement among stakeholders. This improvement is driven by the sharing of real-time data and the integration of systems that streamline operations and enhance decision-making. 

Traditional methods of private communication, such as emails and WhatsApp, are no longer necessary. Previously, a freight forwarder would have to individually contact the cargo handler or shipping agent to acquire specific documents and settle fees directly at their offices. With the PCS, however, all fees from various stakeholders are consolidated in a single invoice that can be paid through our electronic payment system. Additionally, all necessary authorizations are transmitted online—for instance, terminal authorizations to release goods by a certain date or delivery orders. 

Real-time updates on the discharge of cargo from vessels, as well as authorizations for loading containers onto trucks for import or onto vessels for export, are directly communicated to terminals as soon as all formalities are finalized.

Webb Fontaine’s PCS solution marks a new era in ports logistics automation and trade facilitation. Are there any unique features of the system?

Our PCS stands out for its rapid deployment, local customization through workflow engines tailored to specific contexts (e.g. petrol terminals vs vehicle parcs), and its ability to calculate ad-hoc fees and process release conditions swiftly.

It also integrates seamlessly with advanced payment and customs platforms, offering a comprehensive service package that is unique in the industry.

In addition, it has risk management capabilities mostly based on AI and ML techniques to spot potential fraud on bills of Lading.

Port Community Systems are evolving into sophisticated digital platforms that enable real-time information sharing and logistics integration. What does the future hold for PCS?

The future of PCS is likely to see further advancements in AI, IoT, and machine learning, leading to increased automation, predictive analytics, and enhanced security measures. These technological developments will continue to expand the capabilities of digital platforms in managing supply chains.

Do you have any closing remarks?

The evolution of Port Community Systems like those from Webb Fontaine is redefining global trade logistics, enhancing port efficiency, and strengthening economies. The continued development and adoption of such systems are crucial for the future of global maritime trade and logistics.

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Nixon Kanali

Tech journalist based in Nairobi. I track and report on tech and African startups. Founder and Editor of TechTrends Media. Nixon is also the East African tech editor for Africa Business Communities. Send tips to nkanali@techtrendske.co.ke.

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