The big interview: Cargo 2000, eighteen years later

30 / 11 / 2015

At next year’s World Cargo Symposium, Cargo 2000 is to get a new name and brand. 

It has become a bit of a tired joke for those who work for the organisation when they are asked how come it is now 2015 and it still hasn’t achieved its goals.

“We have done so much that the name is not doing us justice,” says Ariaen Zimmerman, who took over as executive director on July 15. “I don’t want to always be on the defensive.”

Cargo 2000 has indeed done a lot in the 18 years it has been in existence. It has a Master Operating Plan, a quality measurement system that compares each stage in the air cargo chain against defined milestones, and 78 members. 

But you could be forgiven for wondering if there is not a bit of truth behind the joke. Why, for example, is one of the organisation’s current priorities to finalise new airport-to-airport specifications and start on translating the door-to-door specifications? Wasn’t all of this done years and years ago?

Why also is the organisation seemingly perpetually trying to broaden its appeal from its core adopters to the rest of the air cargo business? 

Zimmerman says that a key part of the renaming and rebranding exercise will be to become more outwardly focused. 

“Our aim is not just to come up with a new system but make sure it is adopted by the whole industry,” he says. “Our members know what we do, but we want the rest of the world to know.”

Similar things were said by Zimmerman’s predecessors, how-ever. His response to this point is that “it would be a bit presumptuous” for him to comment on what happened before he joined the organisation. But he does not entirely deny that Cargo 2000 has not moved as fast as it might. 

“It is fair to say that we haven’t achieved everything the founders had in mind in 1997,” he says. “And before I joined, I to some extent had the same opinion of Cargo 2000. 

“But then I met the board and found twelve individuals who had voluntarily taken time out from their companies and had a clear shared vision. 

“Today [October 28] in Vienna we have 60 people here from the industry for three days to find ways to improve Cargo 2000 — forwarders, airlines, ground handlers and IT handlers.

“That is not something I have seen anywhere else in this industry, and this is the only platform that includes the whole chain in one room and has a stated interest in improving quality and shipment control.”

So what concrete steps are being taken to energise Cargo 2000? For a start, for the first time it is to have a management team in one place. 

Rather than having a part time director with staff spread between Montreal, Miami and Geneva, Zimmerman is putting together a team who will all be full-time, and all based in Geneva to have better access to IATA resources and expertise.

“We have someone lined up to be our technical director whose name I can’t reveal yet but who will be starting in January,” he says.

“We had some very good candidates for the job, so it was a tough choice. That is a strong indicator that Cargo 2000 is not regarded as irrelevant.”

Another priority is to continue the updating of the technical specifications. 

Why Cargo 2000 is rewriting its airport-to-airport specifications, with the door to door ones to come yet, is because of the revamp to the master operating plan unveiled in 2012. 

“The whole specifications have been rewritten a couple of times [since Cargo 2000 was founded] as people found that reality had changed,” says Zimmerman. 

“The world we live in has changed, and people now have IT at their fingertips. 

“E-commerce also affects processes and produces changes, and our specifications have to keep up.”

On the door to door portion (ie door to airport and airport to door), some forwarders such as Kuehne + Nagel and DHL have been implementing this for years, but it has not so far been a compulsory part of Cargo 2000. One of the aims of the Vienna conference in late October was to set this in train, with the aim of implementing it by 2017.

Zimmerman is also stressing the importance of “scaleability”. One challenge here is that while most shipments handled by airline members are measured under Cargo 2000, roughly 10 percent are not — for instance because they are to infrequently served destinations or small forwarders with only a few employees.

“They should still be able to get something from Cargo 2000. That is what we have in mind when we say scalability,” says Zimmerman.

The aim, as ever, is also to get more SME forwarders on board. A handful are already members, but hundreds of thousands are not. If Cargo 2000 could get only 20% as members that would be tens of thousands of new recruits.

The organisation is also looking at how it can offer services to non-members, something that has once again been looked at before without success. Three years ago one idea was to encourage members to allow third parties selective access to Cargo 2000 data. 

But this came to nothing, partly because members were reluctant to release comparative data — comparing one airline to another, for example.

This is because Cargo 2000 allows each member to set its own parameters for milestones — how long it takes to unload cargo, for example. Cargo 2000 measures performance against what each member promises. It does not say which unloads cargo faster.

The trouble is that comparative data is exactly what shippers would like to have, and their chief frustration with Cargo 2000 is that it does not provide it.

To counter this, Cargo 2000 is currently trialing a system of time stamps for cargo data — that is, saying not just if a shipment met a parameter, but how long it took to pass each milestone. 

For example, did it fail to meet unloading times by a minute or by two hours? Zimmerman thinks this data will be revolutionary.

“It might show, for example, that the delay is not on the airline side but in border control. You would then be able to go to Customs and challenge them about how long clearance takes.”

Shippers may already be taking this kind of thing into their own hands by putting data loggers in their shipments. One might wonder, indeed, if such devices make Cargo 2000 irrelevant. 

Zimmerman insists not, however.

“It is not just about data but about information. You need to be sure that the data is to a certain standard, that it meets a performance standard that has been agreed,” he says.

There was also a third stage envisaged by the founders of Cargo 2000 — piece-level tracking of cargo. Given that work is not yet complete on the first two stages after eighteen years, is this just a pipe dream?

Zimmerman says not and that Cargo 2000 is actively working with the IATA Piece Level Tracking Task Force, and consulting with other organisations — such as GS1, a body coordinating retail barcodes worldwide and offering an option for generating a unique, globally-accepted piece level identifier.

“We need something which is started by the shipper,” he says. “It is too early to say, but there is a good chance that by 2017 we will have made significant progress on this. Forwarders and airlines are already involved and we will soon be able to tell you more.”   ■