Air cargo digitalization: If I had a magic wand...
Air cargo digitalization has been a long-held wish for most air cargo professionals I have met. Although a tremendous amount of work has been done, most of those same professionals are disappointed with the actual achievements.
In fact, digitalization is a fast-moving target and air cargo is a slow adopter. Whilst emerging digital industries use AI to predict your next purchase and push ads into all your media streams, in air cargo we still use data formats that date from the telex era. Can we really look into that mirror, and not question our commitment?
Rather than playing catch-up, the air transport industry could leap-frog decades of digital evolution and go straight to the 2021 technologies on offer. IATA's airline members have developed "ONE Record", an industry standard for data sharing, that marries banking strength data security with an API standard and a semantic data model. Or in plain English: the ability to share any of your data, as needed, with your partners and customers in real-time and relegate EDI connections to a well-earned retirement.
Our conversations must – and now can – evolve from "how can I get this or that basic data concerning my shipment?" to "I have all the rich data I need, how can I use this to improve my commercial and operational performance?".
New technologies are far more accessible and affordable than the legacy computer systems that many companies still have. Technology providers are increasingly delivering solutions on a SaaS basis, and it is now easier than ever to buy what you need and importantly, stop buying what you don't.
At a recent webinar organized by Aviation Festival Asia, IBS's global head of cargo & logistics solutions, Ashok Rajan, asked a fun question to a panel of experts in aviation digitalization: "What would you do if you had a magic wand?"
Most panelists expressed the desire for the industry to embrace the ONE Record data sharing standard. I think that their wish went a lot further than that. I think they were asking: "Please dear air cargo industry, let's adopt an attitude of digital cooperation. Let's use the best of the available standards and technologies to put our businesses in a digital ecosystem where our customers and partners can purchase and consume our services more easily and faster." A patchwork approach to integrating a solutions "mêlée" of modern and legacy technology is not the answer to digital transformation. Hammering round pegs in square holes will never unleash the full potential that our industry is currently leaving off the table.
So what if I had such a magic wand? Perhaps I would make our past invisible. Don't look back and regret the disappointing pace of progress. Don't worry about dealing with our hardest legacy integration challenges or bringing on-board our remotest customer that doesn't have internet coverage. Those are easy to fix. Instead, look ahead and eagerly work towards making our data visible, accessible, and useful. Embrace smart analytics and AI. Invent new business models based on a world where the digital twins of our business allow us to cross the boundaries of our imagination.
But then I wonder, we don't really need a magical wand for that, do we?
Henk Mulder is Head of Digital Cargo at the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and leads the digital transformation programme and digital standards development with, and on behalf, of the global air cargo industry.
In 2017 he initiated the IATA ONE Record development which is a technical and business standard for data sharing between all air transport chain partners. Under his leadership, this has evolved into a major industry programme with global expert groups and a standards task force that is detailing the specifications for data sharing. This project is now in pilot test phase involving 50+ active pilot companies. In cooperation with the EU DTLF and CEF, he also leads an effort to extend air cargo data sharing to all transport modes within the EU.
He is also responsible for IATA's e-freight programme which includes the electronic air waybill (e-AWB) and Cargo XML standards. Beyond e-freight, he leads new standardization around air cargo distribution and connected devices (IoT).
Henk is an IT engineer and mathematician and at the start of his career has worked for 10 years at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in the design and operations of particle accelerators, specializing in antimatter production. At this time the WWW was developed at CERN by his colleague Tim Berners-Lee and Henk transitioned from research to e-business in banking and later air transport.