Business Leader recently spoke to Pol Sweeney – VP Sales & Country Manager UK at Descartes Systems Group, to discuss how the company has been leading the way in assisting businesses through the Brexit transition.
Can you tell me about Descartes and the history of the business?
We are a Canadian-based business, with a strong tech focus, which was founded in the 1980s – that targeted improving supply chains across the world. This has then developed into the business we have today, a global firm who creates products which address supply chains, logistics and transportation – these deliver optimisation and efficiencies, and the removing of issues within those areas. Descartes has one of the largest communications networks globally – over 200,000 connected partners, who pass messages, orders, invoices, updates, tracking, security information, and so much more.
Can you talk about your expansion into the UK?
Descartes has been in the UK for more than a decade – where we have become a leader in route optimisation, transport management and mobile applications. We work with customers, such as John Lewis and many others, who use us for last mile delivery and proof of delivery applications – and we have seen a lot of growth in this area in the UK.
However, in the last year or so, we have been focusing on helping our customers through the Brexit transition – specifically anything to do with customs declarations between the UK, Northern Ireland and the EU. Our goal is to remove the burden of Brexit – and we have successfully achieved this for our clients.
How else have you helped customers through the Brexit transition?
In terms of customs declarations, anyone exporting out of the UK into the EU or Northern Ireland needs export declarations, safety and security filing and other documentation needed after the Brexit transition period. In the lead up to Brexit, we helped our clients prepare, so they knew what was needed to continue trading throughout this period and to have the right training ahead of the deadline. Our clients cover a wide range of sectors and industries, so there are many areas of a business that needed our guidance during Brexit.
Were businesses prepared for Brexit?
Many were prepared – but a lot were not. And it doesn’t take many to be unprepared to create the problems we have seen since the New Year, with companies trading between Britain, NI and the EU. However, if one organisation can do it – and many have – then other organisations should be able to. This is where Descartes can help – we can show you what needs to be done. Companies can help themselves by being prepared through training staff and giving them all the information they need, to understand how Brexit will affect their business.
What have been the other challenges you have seen in your industry?
The other main challenge has been COVID-19 and the impact on supply chains – as well as the wider economy. The immediate impact of lockdowns due to COVID-19 was striking – the volumes of business dipped significantly almost immediately. However, after a few weeks, we could see the significant growth in online retail – and by Easter many retailers were seeing double the number of orders they would get at their busy periods in Christmas – and that has continued throughout the pandemic. That created challenges for many firms with regards to last mile delivery, as well as their processes surrounding that. Now we are seeing firms putting plans in place for when we are out of lockdown – and supply chain will be the key area for many.
There is a focus around paperless and less-manual interference within the supply chain – and along with COVID testing and continued furlough workers across Europe – there are many new challenges for supply chains. Most of our software is SAAS, which has meant that many of our clients have been able to continue while working from home – and, for example, for our proof of delivery service, we have changed the way we operate to be more COVID-secure – so Descartes has continued to help clients through all of these challenges.