Niranjan Navaratnarajah, cargo industry director for Unisys Asia Pacific, argues that real-time data is fundamental to a connected cargo supply chain to reduce idle time and increase visibility, transparency and security.
We need to securely modernise today’s mostly manual and fragmented cargo distribution processes by going digital.
Let’s face it, most of the cargo industry still uses paper-based processes with duplicated rounds of data entry exacerbated by disparate operational and accounting systems, all of which creates the potential for errors and inefficiencies.
This despite the fact we all know that by automatically capturing and using a single data set throughout the process, based on the trusted Air Waybill (AWB), the cargo industry can modernise and transform to a connected cargo supply chain.
Why change now? The cargo industry must digitalise to reduce shipment idle time to improve the customer experience, optimise asset utilisation, improve security and reduce unnecessary storage costs.
Indeed, for the air cargo industry to attract more goods movement from other forms of transport, it must be easier, quicker, more secure and cost effective.
To achieve this, the entire cargo industry needs to adopt centralised datasets that are updated in real-time using mobile devices, automation and Internet of Things (IoT), to hasten processes and allow buyers and sellers to access up-to-date and accurate information. This ‘connected cargo supply chain’ offers customers greater visibility, certainty and satisfaction.
In my view the industry needs to make three key changes to create a connected cargo supply chain – use centralised datasets; capture real-time data by securely integrating mobility, IoT and data automation; and use AI and predictive analytics for improved visibility, efficiency and security.
• Use centralised datasets
The cargo supply chain is complex with many entities involved in the delivery process, including booking agents, airlines, customs, freight forwarders, and road/rail transport. Each uses separate forms (often paper) and manual processes (such as phone calls) – creating out-of-date data, inaccuracies, opportunities for fraud and hindering end-to-end tracking.
Buyers and sellers must move their business to online e-commerce platforms, which can be their own in-house platform or one that spans a community of forwarders, airlines, general sales agents and handlers, such as Unisys’ Digi-Portal. Such real-time platforms enable buyers to interact with automated real-time inventory and not rely on stored data.
In addition, growth in consumer online purchases has not only increased small parcel deliveries, it has created an expectation for faster deliveries and where customers can easily track their deliveries. Real-time data, used across the supply chain, enables greater visibility and traceability of shipments.
The good news is that this transformation is very achievable: with 63% penetration of e-AWB in the cargo globally, the industry is well poised to move to centralised e-AWB based centralised datasets in the next 12-18 months.
And as eight of the top ten countries of origin for e-AWBs are in Asia, and five of the six top airports of origin are Asian, we can expect this region, the ‘world’s manufacturing bowl’, will lead the way.
• Capture real-time data
Capture real-time data by securely integrating mobility, IoT and data automation to make updates on the spot and exchange information faster to reduce the time that cargo is left on the ground.
Asian cargo markets compete against each other to be seen as easy to do business with, yet only Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong/China rank in the top 20 of The World Bank’s Logistics Performance Index. Reducing costly shipment idle time is key. Unisys estimates that, on average, cargo is in the air for only 15% of its total delivery time – for the remainder it is on the ground. The industry should aim to cut idle time to around 50%.
In a secure connected cargo supply chain, information flows automatically and mobile devices, wearables, sensors, voice enabled commands, robots and drones enable staff to process shipments on the spot, updating data in real-time. Also, weigh bridges automatically exchange data with systems preventing data errors and fraud; and IoT enabled sensors on shipments proactively alert cargo systems and staff if a shipment has been left behind, in the wrong location, or is distressed.
In ‘smart warehouses’, drones augment air cargo transport and help the workforce process more shipments to optimise warehouse real estate for a better return on investment.
Imagine an operator talking to a device to execute an action or a robot performing repeatable actions more often, such as warehouse inventory checks? Some stakeholders are actually already doing something like this by using sensors to track vehicle movements to update end customers on the status of their delivery and alert operators to take swift action to avoid movement blockages. But adoption is fragmented and an industry-wide holistic approach is needed to transform the whole supply chain.
• Use AI and predictive analytics for improved visibility, efficiency and security
More accessible and accurate cargo records also help manage, process and track cargo, particularly sensitive items like medicine or food, which must be stored at certain temperatures.
Artificial intelligence powered by predictive analytics can help freight forwarders to ingest and analyse data in real-time, to determine if sensitive shipments require attention or if shipping conditions need to be modified. Drones and robots can then quickly reach shipments to take preventive action to avoid distress.
Predictive analytics can also generate data to enable airlines to better plan their routes, avoid inclement weather and validate the security of shipments. And real-time visibility into shipments also helps locate misplaced items. Integrated with such targeting tools, the connected cargo approach would improve the clearance and tracking of shipments from loading to arrival.
Finally, moving to a digital data-based cargo supply chain enables the integration of advanced security information and event management (SIEM) tools, such as the Unisys Stealth platform with automated Dynamic Isolation, to protect customer information and shipment data from being accessed or modified by unauthorised parties, preventing data theft and cargo fraud.
Biometric-based identity management, such as fingerprints, face scans or voice recognition can be used to verify the identity of customers and drivers who drop off/pick up freight to ensure that goods get into the right hands more securely and efficiently than if they had just undergone a manual check.
At an industry level, IATA has outlined a vision for an efficient air cargo industry relying on full paperless processes and smart data sharing, securely identifying the real customer, enabling innovative and value-added services to customers.
It is supporting the required transformation by modernising air cargo standards and exploring new technologies to assess their potential impacts and use within the air cargo supply chain.
Arguably this is good business sense as a connected cargo ecosystem based on centralised real-time data extracted from the AWB will streamline, automate and transform the cargo handling process from booking through to billing, enabling greater accuracy, speed, visibility and security for the airline and a better service and experience for their cargo clients.