In a global pandemic such as COVID-19, technology, data science and artificial intelligence (AI) have become critical to helping air cargo business effectively deal with sales and management while increasing security of data and shipments. Niranjan Navaratnarajah, Cargo Industry Director at Unisys APAC speaks to Upamanyu Borah about these emerging technologies, the challenge of tackling and maintaining data security in a connected ecosystem, and the latest best-in-class solutions that Unisys has to offer to the industry.

The current epidemic of coronavirus is spreading across the air cargo ecosystem hampering operations and sales to network and planning. What are Unisys’ suggestions to the industry at this juncture?

Though it is difficult to predict the exact consequences of the coronavirus outbreak, the impact across global supply chains are already being felt. The implications of supply chain disruptions are global in nature and will be felt across a number of sectors.

However, we have seen such situations in the industry before- the SARS outbreak, the attacks of 9/11, the global financial crisis and many more, and the air cargo industry withstood and recovered from the effects.

Similarly, in case of the current epidemic, the air cargo industry has to pick it up as soon as the conditions subside or the effects start to decline. And, when they pick up, the pent-up demand will go through the roof, leading to exponential demand. However, that demand will be very short-lived and call for raw materials and finished products will be swift.

Having seen this in the past, and as a technology solutions company, we at Unisys are urging the industry to be prepared, adopt technology-driven solutions for faster recovery cycles.

Unlike the past, the battle lines are unclear; they are redrawn because the recovery times or peaks and troughs are much shorter. Therefore, during times like these, technology should be able to guide and provide solutions to all the stakeholders. For instance, providing direction on how quickly the goods can reach the market, how quickly the channels can enable this, how quickly cyber physical technology security can drive this change, and so on.

Data sharing across the supply chain partners is one area for improvement. As such, how can technology be used to reduce data input resource making it easier for companies to access information?

Going digital cuts dwell time and reduces transport cycles – key to for the industry to quickly respond to the recovery. As two in three shipments now use eAWBs, centralised accurate and real-time data is already available in a format that is easy to share.

However, the one question that remains is how to secure this data?

The concept of data sharing or having it in a chain is impressive, but you need to make sure the right data is available to the right people at the right time, and wrong sources don’t get access to it.

As such, cyber security of data is essential; one should maintain proper coordinated approach towards data protection and security. For instance, IATA’s ONE Record initiative aims to take digitisation to the next level by creating a standard for data sharing. It allows the creation of a single record view of a shipment through a standardised and secured web API, improving the ease and accuracy of accessing the data.

What are the few interoperable and real-time solutions for the supply chain in air cargo?

Interoperability and collaboration is very important. Additionally, how stakeholders will engage in the processes post-COVID-19 recovery, will be at the center of attention. Here again, sharing data will be fundamental, as well as the selection of channels: newer channels of operability in terms of supply chain to make it efficient so that the cycles are made shorter.

One of the significant drawbacks in the air cargo industry is the fact that inter-sharing or operability of the data is slow. As a result, while physical goods move, data doesn’t. This leads to a consequence. Now if the data and physical goods move as equally and efficiently, end-to-end time cycles will be much shorter, and that’s what the e-commerce industry is thriving towards.

As a company grows its e-commerce channels, there’s an increased need to operate in a multi-distribution center environment. How should their approach be towards inventory management processes to make them adapt accordingly?

E-commerce and its evolution has entirely revolutionised retail. Today, most of the stores and shop fronts are closing down because they have less people coming through the doors. Everyone is buying online, being in their own comfort zones. And this is going to stay because it allows convenient ways and means of doing it. Now that’s the consumer part of it, where they are buying inventory online.

If you link the same to the air cargo industry, the uptake has been slow because the players do not believe in the channels. Cargo inventory needs to be made available across multiple selling channels – in the same way; consumers can buy hotels and flights via independent online comparison sites.

That’s where Unisys solutions come to play, we bring the inventory to a common medium, to a buying platform where multiple buyers can see inventory online in real-time and 24/7. We have a range of portfolio and solutions; Digi-IQ, Digi-Portal and Cargo Portal Services (CPS) which provides a framework, a mechanism for buyers and sellers to come together online, do business as well as put the distress inventories.

If a shipper comes into the picture and asks his shipments to be sent as quickly as possible given that it’s a priority one, the online portals can enable the speed in operations and ultimately aid in post-COVID-19 recovery cycles.

What are modern day ideal strategies to address the cyber security concerns in the digitally connected air cargo markets?

Cyber-security lags behind in terms of adoption in the air cargo industry. We live in an actively and closely connected world where data can be easily siphoned off, manipulated, sold and reused without anyone’s knowledge. The industry has lately started to realise the value of data or security of personal information.

The order of the day is, we need to share data as its going to help global supply chains function; it’s the future, however we should not be compromising on individual data. We need to start treating data as more than a passive asset class as we start to dive in more and more into the digital realm. Protecting and cloaking data so as to make it secure will offer a true competitive edge and take the business in completely new directions.

Unisys’ solutions could help protect and secure data as it moves along the value chain, this would help the industry and players own the confidence. When the stakeholders see and understand that their data is secure and only the right people have access to it, they will hold on to that confidence. If one does not have the confidence, they won’t consider the materiality of data and its security, and then the entire chain will break down.

Sometimes having the tools and the information is not enough. One needs a quality analytics strategy that is able to accurately describe, predict, and prescript. As such, how efficiently a company can make use of analytics to respond quickly and therefore ensure prompt and safe delivery post-COVID-19 recovery?

Post-recovery from COVID-19, air cargo businesses should expedite shipping and deliver services based on three key pillars: multiple sales channels, secured data, and most importantly, analytics for deep insights on behaviour.

For instance, a freight forwarder should know when his customer would buy, what day he would buy, how often he would buy, which lanes he would opt, and based on that, he can determine if any shipment requires specific attention or if the shipping conditions need to be modified. Analytics can offer critical insights to equip oneself as of now, allowing them know which commodities might move, and the customers they might need to deal with post-recovery cycles.

Further, information on whether warehouses are going to be congested because of the exponential demand post-recovery would help in accelerating the distribution and transportation process. A warehouse generally takes 2-5 days to hold inventories in terms of deliveries because the management of inbound and outbound trailers takes time. Mobile biometric applications can enable a smart phone or tablet to verify if a trailer should be granted access – with additional multi-factor authentication used to screen access for the most sensitive, and valuable cargo and that’s how you load and unload the shipment much quicker, helping reduce dwell time. This is again a catalyst for change whereby you use analytics to know and identify ways and means to deliver goods quicker and shorten cycle times.


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