The older, the better - and the greater the value. However, what holds true for many types of wine, is not the case when it comes to air freight. On the contrary, "old" is a category that
is increasingly becoming a burden in the world of electronic process control.
Yet, the topos is as prevalent as ever: the cargo industry is slow, lags miles behind other industries in terms of digitalization, and is reluctant to innovate. This was the message from many a presenter at the Caspian Air Cargo Summit 2019 in Baku and shortly afterwards also at TIACA’s Executive Summit 2019 in Budapest.
But do these constant complaints about the state of the air cargo industry correspond with reality? A fact check proves rather the opposite.
Some topoi are simply ineradicable. One speaks of the topos of "God's punishment" in the case of a project failure, of the "man-eating wolf" (at least in Europe), or the USA as
the country of "unlimited opportunities", which its indigenous or black population might rather see differently.
The cliché of the "digitalization-resistant air freight industry" belongs to the category of rather harmless, albeit unflattering platitudes. Hardly a conference goes by without leading managers loudly complaining about the perceived sad state of affairs.
Progress on many levels
Why? Because the solutions they go on to present to optimize processes then appear in a more brilliant light, as though they were coming to the rescue, to put it bluntly. The whole thing works along the lines of a simple message: the present is gloomy, but there is a (digital) light at the end of the tunnel.
Yet, is it really gloomy? Not at all. An almost endless number of examples prove the opposite.
Take loading equipment, for instance - especially containers. Years ago, these were simple boxes filled with goods and loaded onto an airplane. End of story!
Then, thanks to emerging product differentiation, watchdogs appeared; apparatuses were added which, for example, permanently measured and recorded the temperature inside those metal boxes.
Enough of this myth of being a digital dodger
Today, many air cargo containers are flying computers, at least those used to transport special products such as pharmaceuticals. Thanks to monitoring, transport quality has significantly improved, and product losses have been minimized. Also, in the event of damage, data readouts usually help to quickly clarify where this was caused and by whom, which also makes insurance claims easier.
Is the cargo industry a digital dodger? At the very least, the high quality of loading equipment, controlled, checked, and fine-tuned by means of permanent data collection, disproves this topos that is constantly stamped on to the industry’s forehead.
Phone or fax - that was yesterday
Another example of the implementation of innovative action concepts in practice and high data transparency for those involved, are electronic booking platforms such as cargo.one or Freightos: Digitally controlled freight exchanges that create full price transparency and allow the booking of shipment capacity on board an aircraft at any time and from anywhere. Such e-portals are a quantum leap in air freight and have been emerging for about three years now thanks to the ongoing digitalization of the industry.
Ergo: Here, too, rapid development is taking place that is likely to change, simplify and make business processes more transparent.
The big boys
Next, there are the major drivers of integrated electronic cargo management systems, such as CHAMP, EDIfly, Descartes, etc. They offer, in all their diversity, a wide range of software-supported services that make business processes transparent and controllable thanks to the collection of large amounts of data and cloud computing. There are light years between these offers of smart business processes and the beginnings of paperless air freight more than 20 years ago (Cargo 2000).
United in the cloud, separated in competition
Finally, there are providers such as Nallian, Dakosy inter alia on the market who link individual participants in the supply chain, practically offering them an electronic superstructure in which to conduct their business and enabling them to exchange data with other companies via a cloud, while maintaining competition.
The securing of slots at cargo terminals at airports via booking app or the exchange of data between truckers and cargo terminals for better control of traffic flows are just two of the offers developed by the above companies, and available to the cargo industry. This is also enormous progress compared to earlier, rather random and time-consuming processes in the air freight sector.
The examples outlined here are representative of many others. They illustrate the dynamics of air freight and the efforts of many companies to use digitalization and modern technology to make processes more predictable, transparent, and efficient - for the benefit of all parties involved, especially consumers.
It would be helpful if the many initiatives, achievements and technical innovations were grouped into a large overall picture by organizations such as IATA, FIATA, etc. and communicated to the outside world in an active and comprehensible manner, rather than those organizations focusing on ad hoc small details in their public messages.
The air freight industry has achieved a great deal for years now, yet especially now, during Covid-19. It has maintained vital supply chains and ensured the supply of medical supplies, protective equipment, and pharmaceuticals to many people.
It would be the task of associations, but also of companies and leading air freight decision-makers, to proactively highlight this to the general public.
It would be an important step towards a change in image from negative to positive and a signal to everyone, to finally stop with the permanent moaning about existing deficits in digitization, despite all justified individual criticism, and take action for once.
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