COVID-accelerated opportunity in innovation and digitization of air cargo processes to continue across industry. With companies globally adopting 100 per cent digital and sustainable practices, many tech start-ups have emerged in past few years, providing efficient and highly reliant tech solutions to increase appetite for automation in air cargo.
Advancements, investments in tech
Sakshi Gupta, Country Manager, India, Air Logistics Group said, “The past two years were the most challenging as disruption rippled through the supply chain, which was, by and large, dependent on manual processes across various verticals. Fortunately, we at Air Logistics Group had invested in logistics software and technology to digitize our processes and data. And when this became the need of the hour, we rose to the occasion by bettering e-bookings, data analytics, among others, thus helping our industry to thrive and grow.”
Phoram Sampat, Vice President, EKF Global Logistics averred, “We update our systems to follow industry best practices. Given how process-driven our industry is, the crucial aspect is to ensure that our clientele are satisfied. To this end, we invest in the best software and train our staff to use it. From an infrastructure developmenrt point of view, we intend to increase the size of our storage facilities and ramp up recruitment. We are looking at the solutions, which would reduce logistical opacity that many of the clients must face.”
Priyadarshani Jain, Deputy Manager, Jet Freight Logistics Ltd. said, “The JFLL is focused to have technology advancement to give visibility to our customer and partners. The company is working to become a platform and aggregator-driven organization serving 150 countries. We are investing heavily into hiring logistics professionals and automation specialists under our business transformation plan.”
CargoAi, the global tech solutions provider for air cargo sector, has made impressive investments. Magali Beauregard Ta, CCO, CargoAi said, “We have had several developments and launches in the past three years, including CargoMART, Cargo2ZERO and CargoCONNECT. CargoMART is a digital marketplace for air cargo, allowing freight forwarders to link directly with airlines within seconds to facilitate the cargo booking from search, rates, booking and tracking of shipments. Cargo2ZERO is our suite of embedded sustainability features in CargoMART allowing our clients to take climate action on per booking basis. CargoCONNECT is a digital platform that connects all actors in the air cargo ecosystem, streamlining processes, saving time and money. CargoMART, is not the first one targeting the industry or its customers. What we are bringing is our new vision as CargoAi is the IT supplier for airlines and forwarders. We do not believe that providing the industry with an off the shelf application is going to solve all the required use cases. We believe that we can leverage our skillsets and unique expertise, which we have gained over the existence of CargoAi, to support the industry with customized solutions, especially in building applications as a real middleware provider. These products have solidified our position as air freight’s fastest growing digital enabler, through our reputation as dual experts in technology and air cargo.”
Creating digital literacy
Gupta said, “The country is home to one of the largest bases of digital consumers and is digitizing quicker than other mature and emerging economies. Digital literacy is the key to make digital growth inclusive in India and position our country as a digital hub for data and Artificial Intelligence, thus inviting investments and equipping countrymen with innovation, technology skills and job opportunities.”
Agreeing with Gupta, Jain said, “Digitalisation has vast scope in today’s times. The day you realize you have adopted cent per cent digitalisation, something new and better will turn up. The government is promoting AI and striving to tap the younger generation to make India a leader in technology, particularly Artificial Intelligence.”
Sampat said, “Given that we are an SME, it is at times prohibitive to infuse capital at the scale of the much larger players. We prefer to be lean and learn techniques from PMIBOK and adapt them to our industry. We are glad the days of the pandemic are over. It is much easier to meet clients and other industry experts face to face. For networking, we rely on industry meetings, business networking groups. We must realize that India is a unique market and the needs of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in the industry are similar and often not well addressed. This is because, while the bigger players have access to better resources, it is the SMEs in our industry, which drive the entire sector forward. To this end, meeting and discussing problems with other firms, which are similarly staffed and service a similar clientele, helps in brainstorming the way forward.”
Meanwhile, Magali emphasised, “Assuming that biz houses refer to freight forwarders rather than general companies, the topic of digitalisation in India is now becoming much less of a topic, rather an integral way of running business to the industry worldwide. Plug and Play solutions are here to stay, and the key to unlock user adoption in each freight forwarder’s digital journey. They are simple to use and quicker to integrate, given the experience of needing to pivot behaviour drastically during the pandemic, intuitive applications and ease of use are going to be a crucial consideration for organizations. At its core, digital adoption is about change in management, which boils down to human factors. So, while technology can be ready and quick to deploy, it is the senior management that navigate the day to day changes and makes the difference between companies, ahead of the curve or behind the curve.”
Crucial areas of concern
Technology helps to enhance supply chain productivity, reduce costs, and minimize errors. It is cheap, fast, and able to reach huge audience, but it comes with its own set of drawbacks—some feel that use of technology often disconnects or hollows out a community. “In person meetings have become passé; dependency now is on machines, which are susceptible to bugs and system failures. Also, misinformation too can be widespread using digital space thus question is how we would differentiate between Fact and Fiction is a concern too,” said Gupta.
According to Jain, “Adaptability and acceptability are the crucial areas of concern. Cybersecurity is an important salient feature to ensure smooth functioning of technology. Behind every growth story there are disruptions. These thoughts are some of the concerns that come up, while deploying technology,” she added.
While India is rapidly moving towards digitalisation, its adoption is still a challenge, felt Sampat. “There are certain processes, which require a paper trail such as KYC documents, audit documents, among others. Connectivity, while it is excellent in metropolitan cities, is not completely seamless across the country. Admittedly, the digital divide is being bridged, thanks to India having the cheapest data in the world. But is this sustainable? Most mobile phone providers in India have either exited the market, acquired or have gone bankrupt. Currently, we have two major players and one smaller one in the industry, if we do not count state-owned Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd., and Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd., whose market share is negligible. At some point, they will not bleed cash and raise the internet tariff. But by then, the addiction will have set in and difficult to wean it away. While technology should be welcomed, over-dependence must be avoided. Technology brings with it issues such as data security and theft, connectivity outages, infrastructure costs and the like. It has advantages such as IoT, AI, Blockchain, among others to ease pain points. Every company needs to assess its needs and requirements and deploy technology based on its current bottom line, growth plans, and prospects,” she stressed.
Magali said, “Now that digitalisation has set in to the air cargo industry, we need to work together in our projects to ensure we do not create fragmented data. We add value when we act as middleware by aggregating and working towards the standardization of carrier data that we receive, which we can then redistribute to the forwarders or system providers. This can be through our application and through our various integration solutions. Acting as the industry enabler with regards to this, the connected ecosystem is something a vision that we believe in and a mission that drives us. As a complement to Plug and Play, solution customization will remain essential. Organizations have digitalized at different velocities in air freight and adopted different solutions for their own needs. This fragmented landscape will reduce, but not disappear overnight, and, therefore, will not aid in the industry progressing forward together, as it will be a barrier to collaboration. CargoAi recognizes that customization to different solutions currently in existence is necessary to enable a truly connected ecosystem, while keeping in mind that they still result in intuitive processes enabling quick adoption, and this is how we plan on leveraging our strengths and skillset this year.”
Magali said, “Not only our new products will focus on developing new features and capabilities for existing solutions to further improve the logistics process for our clients, but also will be committed to maintain the sustainable growth and stability that we have achieved so far. We have proven that CargoAi is able to deliver products and technology at a fast pace, and we are externalizing those skills to customized projects to our customers’ (airlines or freight forwarders) needs. We are also launching a breakthrough product in February this year. CargoWALLET is the latest payment solution for air cargo with supply chain financing capabilities, allowing freight forwarders to make payments for their air cargo shipments within CargoMART. CargoWALLET will radically change the way air cargo is processed, and it will be packed with the same user-friendly features that our existing users complement. In summary, we will keep innovating and expanding our reach, making sure that CargoAi continues to be one of airfreight’s leading digital enablers.”
Gupta said, “ALG as a group has extended its footprints across the globe in more than 81 countries and India. We recommend our airline partners to reach out to tier II cities—where there is a need for passenger connectivity and support the indigenous industries there with air freight solutions, especially the perishable sector.”
Jain said, “We are known in the industry for our ability to innovate solutions based on our customers’ requirements. We have ventured in courier business under brand JETXPS where the company will focus on e-commerce and small-sized shipment movements globally. The ops will be based on digitalisation, and we are open to franchises who are technology driven in synchronisation with our systems so that the end user can track their orders.”
Sampat said, “Given the burgeoning size of the trade and India being earmarked as a ‘China+1’ alternative in various industries’ supply chain plans, we envisage expanding to other cities with sea, air, or major rail connectivity. Recently, there has been a major infra push in India. This means better linkage for industries, which export from the hinterland. We understand, there is news floating around of a major push by the Indian Railways to aid the logistics sector by tying up India Post.”
“While this program ‘Rail Post Gati Shakti’ is limited to a few cities and is aimed at the end consumer, we need to see if we can leverage that to increase our presence across the country to service our clients better. Imagine a manufacturer in Jharkhand wishing to export his commodity to the USA—this would mean better margin for him or her and better connectivity and speed with which we can service our clients,” she added.