Air cargo showed its value during the pandemic and the challenge now is to maintain the sector’s elevated status.
One of the most promising areas for supporting future growth is digitization. Ashok Rajan of IBS Software noted there are many opportunities to improve cargo processes using virtual reality, automation and robotics, and artificial intelligence.
In effect, products can be digitally created so they are tailored to the client. The warehousing and handling can be digitally sourced and managed, the accounting digitally settled, and the various customs requirements digitally verified.
But one of the issues, Rajan, noted, is that air cargo innovation tends to happen in fits and spurts with airlines tackling specific areas. This creates a lack of alignment and, of course, a chain is only as strong as the weakest link.
Rajan insisted, therefore, that digitization must be a “business-led strategy and not an IT project.”
The point was picked up by Robert Van Marissing, Air France-KLM Martinair Cargo, who talked about the need for open, standardized APIs (application programming interfaces).
Platforms have helped and eased the previous problem of point-to-point connectivity. Rather than connect with each individual partner, airlines and freight forwarders just need one connection to the platform. But the point is that a business should be free to determine its distribution channels. This may involve platforms or point-to-point connectivity with a major client.
IATA’s ONE Record provides the standardization that enables freedom of choice. It creates a single record view so there is end-to-end visibility on shipments.
Another key component is that data must be exchanged in real time. Without this, disputes arise, such as the agreed rate. This was discussed on a panel, which recognized that seamless and instantaneous data exchange is finally coming to the fore and a major difference from the pre-pandemic environment.
Other changes noted by the panel include increased exposure to digital bookings generally and structured data as opposed to being manually inputted data. The latter has led to a better understanding of the customer and improvements in the product and offer.
Partnership was discussed and though no company can supply expertise in every aspect of cargo operations, partnership is easier said than done. Organizations need to trust partners and digitization is still a novel concept with little track record.
Mobile apps will be an interesting area going forward. In truth, there are not that many bookings made through a mobile app as yet, but the concept seems to be popular in Asia and India. It is possible that mobile apps will gain traction as younger talent enters the industry and remote working takes hold. Countering this is the ease of use of a desktop and the fact that an office environment still dominates. The overall point, though, is that many systems are being built like a B2C product even though they are designed for B2B use.
The panel concluded by noting that digitization is not something that companies should fear. Change management is easier than people think. Most people are comfortable using digital tools and interfaces are designed to be intuitive. Bookings happen from day one of any new system.