“Can’t be done – there’s no such thing,” is the motto of TIACA Chairman Steven Polmans. He exemplified this can-do attitude in his presentation titled “Technology - a Game Changer for Cargo Efficiency” at the TIACA-Routes online event 'TakeOff Cargo 2021', last week.
The industry must and will overcome outdated digitalization blockers such as the mental barriers of nay-sayers, the constant bemoaning of the industry’s fragmentation, constant complaints about the absence of common transnational digital standards, fundamental cultural differences proving to be a hurdle, or cost issues questioning the benefit of a state-of-the-art IT infrastructure.
Daring beats hesitating
These outdated reservations that have been holding back the industry for decades need to be cut off as soon as possible, urged the TIACA Chief. Air freight is an indispensable mode of global transportation, but it runs the risk of being marginalized by the much more agile integrators and disruptors such as Amazon and Alibaba, if it remains stagnant. Therefore, “roll up your sleeves and take action,” was the TIACA Chairman’s unmistakable wake-up call to the industry, voiced at the “TakeOff” event.
How rapidly digitalization has developed was illustrated in a graph presented by Mr. Polmans. The first picture titled “yesterday’s family” showed people gathered around a TV set watching a show together. The next image illustrated “today’s family” with its members ranging from very old to very young, equipped with laptops, smart phones, and tablets, enabling each of them to be their own communications manager.
The air cargo industry is similar to the families shown. Thus, the focus in the past was put on a company’s own 4 walls by optimizing cost issues, operations, and revenue management. Fragmented instead of integrated business processes were the result, Steven Polmans wrapped up.
Learning from the integrators means learning to win
He went on to say that DHL, Amazon, Alibaba, etc. show that there is an alternative and much more efficient option of running the freight business. They control all processes from a single source and have thus achieved a huge competitive advantage over traditional air freight actors. Polmans’ message: Cargo needs to adopt a broader business model, a “community approach”, integrating all stakeholders and sharing information with all the actors of a supply chain, including the unions. The technology is there, what’s needed is the willingness of cargo managers to step into the world of integrated business models.
Collaborative data sharing models are the future
Will the cross-company cooperation model work this time, after so many half-hearted and fruitless attempts in the past? It will, asserts Mr. Polmans optimistically. His points: Unlike in the past, the way has been paved meanwhile for seamless electronic data exchange. An important ‘contribution’ to this has been made involuntarily by the pandemic, with its many lockdowns and physical contact restrictions. Hence, new work models were created, for example, working from home instead of being present in the office. Many outdated legacy systems went to ashes, and talented young members of the above-mentioned “new family”, for whom the use of electronic tools have become natural part of everyday life, are taking over responsibility in the industry, willing to cut off outdated habits.
Brussels scheme as guiding principle
When taking a closer look, the TIACA helmsman advocated the Brussels model, which he successfully developed in close cooperation with the Belgian IT provider Nallian, in his former role as BRU’s Head of Cargo and Logistics. Its core piece is a digital network, enabling all air cargo players using BRU airport, including customs, road feeder service providers, airlines, ground handlers, and others, cross-company data exchange.
Such an integrated system based on data transparency and involving all stakeholders would take cargo flows to the next level and partially reduce the existing gap between the classical air freight actors and the integrators.
This was the encouraging recommendation for action to the industry voiced at the “TakeOff” event by Mr. Polmans, who himself meanwhile holds a leading position at Nallian. “Stop looking timidly at your own 4 walls, and start thinking in broader, cross-company dimensions based on transparency by sharing data. This will benefit your own enterprise and ultimately the entire industry.” In a nutshell, this was Steven Polmans’ core message to the audience of “TakeOff Cargo 2021.”
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