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Technology can handle it

By Adina Solomon on August 28, 2013

Technology providers for air cargo can easily name the challenges the industry faces.

“The No. 1 challenge that they have is how can they respond to a market over which they have very little control,” VK Mathews, founder and executive chairman of IBS, an India-based IT company specializing in airfreight.

Mathews also mentions how most airlines still operate with around 50 percent capacity.

Regulatory challenges abound, says Jim Viscardi, vice president, U.S. critical infrastructure & emergency response at Smiths Detection. Smiths provides security screening services for the airfreight industry.

Finally, Richard White, founder and CEO of software provider CargoWise in Australia, says the industry needs to become paperless and individual players need to have standardized systems in order to better share information.

“On the one hand, the industry wants to change,” White says. “But on the other hand, the industry doesn’t know exactly how to change.”

Companies discuss many of these challenges in boardrooms and conferences around the world. Experts interviewed have one answer for all these problems: technology.

Identify the problem

Mathews of IBS points out a well-known fact: A piece of cargo is only moving 10 percent of the time while in transit. The rest of the time, it’s waiting to be moved.

Part of the problem is the regulatory barriers standing in the way.

“There should be technology available to make the freight industry paper-free,” he says. “There should be technology that is available to make sure that every piece of cargo is moving as fast as possible with all kinds of regulatory permissions.”

Before a piece of cargo arrives at its destination, Mathews says the Customs systems should be notified of what’s coming so they can give an automatic green clearance.

In addition, he says with technology managing routes and capacity, cargo’s waiting time should be reduced from 90 percent of transit duration to around 70 percent.

Viscardi says having more automation also helps on the security side of airfreight.

“We and our customers do everything we can not to impede the flow of commerce, so in terms of the main attributes of the product, it needs to be accurate, needs to get screening done quickly but efficiently and effectively,” he says.

With technologies such as Smiths’, including X-ray screening, trace equipment and a data management system, air cargo companies can automate a usually labor-intensive process.

“The key there is that we are taking all the screening that’s done,” Viscardi says. “We automate that process for them.”

The information is even better because equipment such as Smiths’ FirstView-LINX collects X-ray images of the cargo and automatically attaches them to the AWB, making for a more complete chain of custody and better information for auditing purposes.

Regulators can also use the data to analyze what has moved through the supply chain, understand the patterns and start to tailor regulation around certain sets of carriers, Viscardi explains. Perhaps some carriers require added, reduced or special screening – or no screening at all.

“It just generally makes the carrier’s life easier,” he says.

White of CargoWise discusses standardization of software across companies.

“Standards are a very complicated problem,” he says. “Most people look at standards, and their eyes roll back and they start falling asleep.”

Instead, White talks about the idea of linking players so nobody needs to re-enter information.

“It’s complicated because the players in the industry often have a-similar systems, and sometimes those systems are aging. Sometimes they’re extremely modern. Sometimes they’re in the middle somewhere. Sometimes they use different standards. Sometimes they have different interpretations of the standards,” he says.

So CargoWise has software that allows seamless processing across various platforms.

“One of the most important components is a tool, which we built over a number of years, to enable us to map all those different players together so that for [our users], it looks like a common platform, even though the players that our customers are talking to may have three, four, five different platforms,” White says.

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