WCS17: Air cargo digital disruption takes centre stage

The digitisation of air cargo is a hot topic at the moment and day two of IATA’s World Cargo Symposium began with a call for software providers to push carriers and forwarders to speed up their adoption of digital technology.
To start the digitisation session, Mercator chief executive Cormac Whelan said that the cargo industry had not participated in the digital revolution as much as it could have and was fragmented by legacy technology.
But he said the limit to transformation was not the technology itself but the appetite to change within the industry and said software providers could do more to create change.
“We [digital service providers] have to do a better job to allow you as carriers and as freight forwarders to be braver.
“The world and the technology exist today where an air waybill, through the advent of radio frequency ID, near field ID, the evolution of sensor technology, can talk to you and we are not leveraging that in the cargo ecosystem and we need to work harder.”
He applauded IATA for appointing a head of digital and said this could be the spark for software companies to push carriers and forwarders but admitted companies like his own needed to take on the mantle of this challenge on.
His colleague, Brendan McKittrick, chief technology officer, later outlined how the company had set about driving transformation at its customers that relied on legacy technology.
He said that the most of the challenges faced by the industry were related to user experience.
It had therefore designed a platform that looked at improving adaptability and connectability by allowing users to develop their own apps that meet their requirements, as well as providing access to big data and other functions, and presenting information in a more user friendly way.
McKinsey & Company associate principal Emma Loxton outlined how companies can combat digital disruption in their industries. She said that no sector was immune from digital disruption and warned that it created more competition and that this would put pressure on revenues and earnings.
However, she said that digital disruption also presented opportunities for organisations involved in the industry and not just outside players.
“What can you do about it?” questioned Loxton. “We see this taking place in three stages. The first is setting digital foundations – the data you already have, how can you use it and how would you clean it to make sure you can use it?
“Secondly, what can you standardise to make your operations and digitisation easier and how can you digitise your operating model? Moving on from that, how do you future proof your organisation? What product innovation can you introduce and how do you integrate across your value chain and leverage advanced analytics ideally on the data you previously cleaned?
“Thirdly, how do you think about your role in the new digital era and how will your business model evolve?”
“We are used to organisations that are good at firefighting and delivery. In order to be able to deliver in a new digital environment it may mean a different type of talent, different skills and setting up an organisation that is agile enough to respond as opportunities arrive.”
Jettainer head of marketing Martin Kraemer then outlined how the ULD manager had digitised its business through the development of smart ULDs and digital portals like Jettware.
He also outlined some findings from a big data project it was running with the University of Cologne.
Kraemer said that sometimes data was used in the wrong way. He added that algorithms used when creating solutions needed to have a high quality in order to ensure that they are beneficial for companies and customers.
He ssaid that companies should take data and use human intelligence to decide what elements of it are useful for any particular customer, rather than just randomly present information and data to them that is of no use. However, staff must fully understand the data.
Finally, he said that data should be used to support people rather than replace them.
There was also a presentation on the hot topic of block chain from co-founder of Gatechain.
Lytras gave an outline of how block chains – described as shared digital ledgers across business networks − can create efficiencies and save time in the processing of documentation and also be sued for the creation of smart contracts, such as letters of credit or bills of lading.
He explained that block chains will allow companies to instantaneously make payments or release documents when shipments arrive.

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