Parnkae Nandavisai, Subject Matter Expert – Trade Digitization, Thai Bankers’ Association

The National Digital Trade Platform (NDTP) is a revolutionary project in Thailand that seeks to streamline the export and import process while providing access to financing for SMEs. The project was initiated in 2019 by a private sector body with representatives from commerce, industry, and banking, and it is being developed with the support of the public sector. The NDTP’s first phase involved developing a proof of concept (POC) and a Pilot Live platform in collaboration with TradeWaltz of Japan and NTP of Singapore in October 2022. This article discusses the challenges faced during the NDTP’s development and the lessons learned.

Challenge 1: Document Standards

One of the biggest challenges during the NDTP’s development was establishing common standards for electronic commercial documents, including e-purchase orders, e-invoices, and e-packing lists. Initially, the team tried to map a list of data fields to derive a common structured format. However, reconciling both semantics and syntax was time-consuming, and there were limitations in both time and resources. The team eventually followed TradeWaltz’s structured format, which did not meet all the requirements of Thai exporters/importers. Therefore, each country platform will send its own structured format, which fulfills the exporter/importer’s requirements, and the recipient platform will facilitate the receiving of such structured format for the ultimate recipient. Establishing a standard list of semantics and syntax is expected to be helpful.

Challenge 2: Set of Data Instead of Set of Documents

Initially, the team tried to map data fields in each document, but they realized that there were common data fields among several documents in a shipment. Therefore, they decided to work on the basis of a set of data for a shipment and separately facilitate the construction of each document as and if required. Common data fields across various documents for a shipment should be dealt with only once.

Challenge 3: Platform Standards

Each country platform has its own business logic, procedures, technical set-up, and security, and connectivity between two country platforms is via API. It is up to a country platform to do due diligence, understand and trust the other country platform to provide services to in-country exporter/importer/other stakeholders. Establishing minimum standards/qualification and certification that are internationally acceptable may be helpful. The PEPPOL community protocol, practice, and support seem to help.

Challenge 4: Different Industry Different Requirements

The NDTP had to acknowledge that different industries have specific requirements, and a one-size-fits-all approach is unlikely to work. Services should respond to each industry client journey and requirements, in addition to prioritizing the required services/functions/features and the corridor.

Challenge 5: Business Model for Owner/Operator

One of the crucial aspects of the NDTP’s development is identifying who should own and operate the platform. This is necessary to ensure successful transformation of trade documents and processes, which will lead to successful adoption and sustainability. However, it is challenging to drive the platform as a profit-driven organization, which makes it hard to get started. Therefore, a study of business model options, both general and country-specific, is necessary.

In summary, the National Digital Trade Platform is a remarkable initiative that aims to revolutionize the export and import process in Thailand, benefitting SMEs and paving the way for a more efficient and sustainable trade ecosystem. Despite facing challenges during its development, such as establishing common standards and identifying a business model, the team has learned valuable lessons that will ensure the platform’s success.