"The only artificial intelligence-enabled airfreight platform that connects freight forwarders and airlines" is how CargoAi markets itself and refers to its SaaS-based platform that goes beyond merely ebooking, enabling tailored services through data analysis, application, and machine learning. Its other USP: unlike existing booking channels, CargoAi is not restricted to the limited number of airlines that have chosen to integrate there, and its solutions are scalable to all company sizes, regardless of IT architecture. On behalf of CargoForwarder Global, Markus Flacke spoke to CargoAi’s CEO, Matthieu Petot, to find out more about this newly established digital quote and booking platform that goes extra lengths.
Admittedly, there are better years in which to launch a new booking platform for the air cargo industry than 2020. Or, as Matthieu Petot, the founder and CEO of CargoAi would put it in his
optimistic world view, there could also be worse years. It is this positive mindset that dominated our conversation and demonstrated that neither the company nor its founder can be deterred in
their quest to bring the most modern cargo booking platform to the industry.
The campaign promotes the arrival of CargoAi, a platform that has adopted one of the megatrends of the digital age – Artificial Intelligence – in order to provide an outstanding customer experience and service to its users. It is almost established wisdom that disruptors of any industry normally have little or no familiarity with the industry which they are about to change. When faced with this statement, Matthieu Petot smiles knowingly, “Yes, I have heard this very often. However, my background is indeed in the logistics industry, and more so in air cargo, where I worked for AirFrance-KLM Cargo and DB Schenker Australia. My ride into digitalization, though, started fully when I began working for Dyson, a company built on innovation. Here, I realized that a lot of the processes in the air cargo industry are from a different era and open to disruption, e.g. many carriers seemed to use CRM tools reluctantly.”
From CRM to CargoAI
Equipped with this insight, Matt started out with the idea of creating a specific CRM solution for air cargo carriers – an idea that was eventually dropped in order to develop CargoAi in 2019. “The vision for CargoAi was very clear from the beginning,” says Matthieu, “I wanted to employ the most modern technology and artificial intelligence in order to create a solution that aims beyond the facilitation of the booking process. One of the first things that we tackled was indeed schedule availability, where, in addition to API connectivity, our platform picks up information from published sources like airport departure and arrival portals on a daily basis, securing that a forwarder has all the relevant information in one place and can contact airlines in order to place capacity requests through CargoAi. One item that we are very proud of and fine-tuning at the moment, is indeed a load planning function that allows a 3D view of the load planning process inside CargoAi, which will, in particular, be helpful for smaller carriers where a lot of this work is still paper based.”
I asked Matthieu about the architecture of the platform and how he and his team will facilitate the expected growth and scalability of CargoAi. “Like many other solutions, CargoAi is, of course, cloud based,” states Matthieu, “and offered as Software-as-a-Service. The important differentiator is, though, that we use the cloud not just as a location where we host a virtual machine, but also use other abilities, e.g. the possibility to containerize code, allowing for the deployment of independent containers to run services. This allows us to scale CargoAi as needed.”
The true competition is resistance to change, and old habits
He sensed my skepticism when I pointed out that the market for booking platforms is already very crowded, but is not shy to highlight that yes, there are strong competitors, but from his perspective the real challengers are resistance to change, and old habits. “There are established platforms out there, but CargoAi is the one that offers the broadest choice when it comes to schedule availability and additional functionality,” he continues. “Furthermore, the use of CargoAi is simple. A forwarder is signed on to the platform in less than two minutes. There is, on purpose, no lengthy head-quarter driven implementation process.”
Will air cargo booking platforms follow the fate of passenger portals?
Of course, the aviation industry has seen a similar hype of booking platforms in the passenger segment, with the result that many carriers decided eventually to reserve the best ticket prices for their exclusive company portals. Does Matthieu see similarities? From his point of view the similarities are limited. “There will be no exclusive availability of capacity through a single platform,” he elaborates. “Every carrier will be on every platform. The success of CargoAi and other platforms will be based on a simple equation: Does the value exceed costs?” “Furthermore,” he rightly points out, “booking platforms like CargoAi help to standardize the booking process in the air cargo industry, and standardization of booking processes drove the tremendous growth in the passenger business.”
The new normal
When asked what he sees currently as major challenges and trends in the air cargo industry, i.e. the so called “new normal”, Matthieu moves to the impact of the upcoming Covid vaccine distribution on other air cargo supply chains. “In all likelihood, there will be temporary capacity bottlenecks,” he explains. “Something forwarders may want to resolve by signing more block-space agreements, which, of course, will then influence the booking processes.” As a last question, I asked Matthieu whether the company’s headquarter in Singapore offers a competitive advantage over other locations, since APAC seems to go through a quicker market recovery than other parts of the world. Matthieu believes that, in the short-term, it may be an advantage, but in the long-term perspective, air cargo remains a global business and thus CargoAi’s success will be measured against its global performance.
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