How e-booking platforms transform air cargo needs
The air cargo industry is recognising the strategic importance of adopting digital transformation in an era of fast digital innovation. With the help of advanced technology and artificial intelligence, the need for change with digitisation is clearer than ever, especially in light of the lessons learnt from recent global disruptions and the pressures placed on global supply networks.
Adopting digital transformation is no longer simply a need; it is now a strategic imperative. The interruptions in global supply chains have acted as a wake-up call, prompting businesses to rethink their strategy and adopt new ideas that are faster and efficient.
In a fast-paced world where efficiency and speed are vital, the air freight industry has been quick to embrace technological advances. New developments and technology have been a continual transition in booking platforms, where industry players instinctively investigate new technologies - particularly the ones like generative AI.
Emerging needs of freight forwarders
The days of tedious manual paperwork and time-consuming booking processes in the air cargo sector are long gone. The integration of e-booking platforms has resulted in a fundamental shift in how cargo reservations are made for airlines and freight forwarders. These digital platforms have become the industry's backbone, allowing for real-time communication, more transparency, and faster cargo arrangements.
When asked about the growing demands of freight forwarders and how e-booking platforms are reacting to them, Matt Petot, CEO, CargoAi provided some interesting insights like the new payment system that will soon be enabled and blockchain technology.
“As booking platforms become more sophisticated, we will start to see a demand to also carry out the payment processes within the same time period (such as you would with buying a package of Amazon – book and check out). Our dedicated airfreight payment solution CargoWALLET will solve this pain point and enable multiple vendors to collect payment and get paid without having to leave the same screen. On the same note, we can expect that blockchain technology will likely find broader applications in enhancing data security and transparency in digital booking processes, particularly payment,” said Petot.
“Forwarders are becoming more demanding about their digital experiences. Freight forwarders increasingly need to compete and differentiate their offerings. Forwarders today require a hybrid ability to speedily compare dynamic spot-market content alongside a variety of static rates. All these rate types have a role to play for shipments being effectively quoted in different timeframes and circumstances, and cargo.one’s solutions ensure seamless aggregation and an optimal offer-building module for the forwarder to use,” said Moritz Claussen, Founder & Co-CEO, cargo.one.
“Digital transformation has become a strategic imperative for logistics companies. A new study, ‘Unlocking the future: Embracing digital transformation in logistics’ (by CargoWise), surveyed 468 logistics and supply chain professionals globally and found that 82% of respondents had increased their technology investments over the last three years. The vast majority expect their investment in new IT systems and technology to remain consistent (50%) or increase (45%) over the next year. Their IT investments are primarily in areas that improve productivity, efficiency and effectiveness: supply chain management systems (64%), digital documentation (48%), warehouse automation (39%) and data analysis for inventory management (35%),” said Stuart Hayman, Head of Carrier Integration and Transformation, WiseTech Global.
Advancing the platform
E-booking platform players have made it possible for clients to book shipments with only a few clicks. However, this is not enough. Demands and requirements change on a daily basis, thus e-booking platforms are always working to introduce new features and enhancements to their platforms in order to provide a quick and efficient booking experience. Let us look into some advancements introduced by industry leaders for a seamless booking experience.
“Forwarders are becoming more demanding about their digital experiences. Freight forwarders increasingly need to compete and differentiate their offerings. Forwarders today require a hybrid ability to speedily compare dynamic spot-market content alongside a variety of static rates.”
Moritz Claussen, Founder & Co-CEO, cargo.one
Freight forwarders now have considerably more market awareness and the ability to make a confirmed booking instantaneously and engage with airlines and agents globally, spanning time zones in seconds, thanks to strong innovation initiatives, tenacity, and user-experience emphasis.
“A great example is our recent launch of cargo.one pro, which is the industry’s biggest step forward in equipping freight forwarders with seamless digital agent-to-agent bookings. Put simply, we reengineered the import experience - bringing effortless digital imports to every agent within a few clicks. We see daily that cargo.one has powerful impacts on the success of freight forwarders. For importers, the new ability to organise import shipments rapidly - around the clock - means they can leave their competitors standing. For export agents, they can now offer digital booking of imports to their partners and thousands of new agents on cargo.one worldwide - the business literally comes to them, even while they sleep,” said Claussen.
CargoAi's major e-booking technologies include API connectivity and Single Sign-On (SSO) capabilities. With an aim to achieve IATA’s objective of 100% Electronic Air Waybill (eAWB) adoption, CargoAi recently introduced eAWB functionality to CargoMART.
“By integrating this as part of the booking flow, we feel it will effortlessly and intuitively allow forwarders to quickly adopt the usage of this feature. At its core, the eAWB contains information about the shipment which can be easily transmitted via digital means. We integrated with a third party provider to enable this feature within the app. Having a traceable and visible flow of data radically reduces the errors that can occur. In turn, this minimises time wasted on rectifying the mistake and improves operational and business efficiency at the top level,” said Petot.
The CargoWise Carrier Connectivity Programme enables freight forwarders to efficiently plan, book, confirm and manage shipments with a carrier, in real-time from within the industry’s leading logistics execution platform CargoWise.
“More than just e-booking, the direct data integration via an API, enables CargoWise customers to access an airline’s schedules, dynamic rates, capacity and allotment bookings as well as the ability to easily change digital bookings. There is a substantial improvement in efficiency for our customers as they can achieve all of this without leaving their core cargo management system,” said Hayman.
“There is no AI needed to digitise the e-booking process. It is just a matter of ‘connecting’ efficiently the various operating systems, or offering a very user-friendly, 24/7 available online portal.”
Cedric Millet, President, CargoTech
Making bookings by email or phone, and only within the ‘opening hours’ of a reservation centre, is not a ‘future’ concept. It is a thing of the past, and in many situations, it is still a part of the present.
“While our focus is on the end-result for customers, not the specific technology that we use, we have been exploring a range of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning options for some time. One newer example, made possible by Natural Language Processing (NLP) capabilities, is the ability for forwarders to easily paste or upload quote requests and then automatically search for air cargo rates. This may be a small tweak but in this industry everything that reduces sisyphean manual efforts is welcome,” said Ruthie Amaru, Chief Product Officer, Freightos.
Many members of the industry believe artificial intelligence (AI) has the ability to increase efficiency while lowering emissions and improving industry pricing, benefiting the whole air freight sector. Cedric Millet, President, CargoTech, offers a distinct perspective on AI.
“CargoTech today offers the CargoAi suite of products to digitise ‘transactional’ booking processes. There is no AI needed to digitise the e-booking process. It is just a matter of ‘connecting’ efficiently the various operating systems, or offering a very user-friendly, 24/7 available online portal. CargoAi offers the forwarders the possibility to use Cargo MART to take e-booking online on carriers whose capacity is made available on the platform. CargoAi is today the platform offering the highest number of carriers, with the most advanced technology with the best user experience compared to its competitors. This is the reason why CargoTech chose to invest in that company,” said Millet.
Despite the numerous benefits, adoption of e-booking platforms has not been without challenges. Certain organisations, particularly smaller players, may face early obstacles in moving to digital platforms due to technological infrastructure limitations or a refusal to change. Furthermore, as the industry embraces digital solutions, data security and privacy remain top priorities.
“The biggest challenge is usually where to start. But that’s also the solution and how we approach it. Digitalisation is a bit of a chain reaction - once you have a digital anchor it’s easy to build up and down the supply chain. We’re always looking for those anchors - areas where it’s both possible–and highly worthwhile– to digitise. For example, being able to book freight and capacity digitally is a great anchor - it saves time and money and lends certainty to moving goods. From there it’s easy to extend the digital chain in so many ways - dynamic pricing, algorithmic purchasing, end user portals, etc,” said Amaru.
The use of e-bookings for digital air freight is becoming more manageable, but the pandemic has slowed the pace. Companies are now moving past that and searching for methods to improve. Stakeholders continue to welcome innovation and new technology, but they each have their own processes and procedures.
“Our research has found that a combination of workforce attitude and capability were the biggest barriers to successfully implementing technologies that enabled more visibility in their operations. The main workforce objections to new technologies are concerns about adapting existing processes to new technology, learning how to use it, and a general fear of the unknown. People may be hesitant to abandon familiar methods in favour of new technologies, if they don’t see the overall business goals and their role in the journey to the desired outcomes, or if they are not confident using the new tools. Taking a people-focused change management approach to digital transformation initiatives, including two-way communication channels, training and updated procedures fosters a workplace culture ready to embrace change,” said Hayman.
However, as technology continues to advance, and more stakeholders recognize the benefits of e-booking platforms, the future outlook appears promising. The industry is likely to witness further integration of blockchain technology, enhancing data security and creating a tamper-proof audit trail for shipments. Additionally, AI and machine learning may play a vital role in optimising cargo routing and forecasting demand, leading to even greater efficiency gains.
“The most challenging aspect of digitalisation is human change management. Embracing new technologies and processes often requires a shift in mindset and workflows. At Cargo.Ai, we are a young company, which allows us to create a company culture that embraces innovation. We prioritise transparency and open communication, allowing our team members to voice their concerns and suggestions. By fostering a culture of continuous learning and innovation, we tackle the challenges posed by digitalisation head-on and pave the way for a successful and sustainable future. Infrastructure and resources varying across different countries and regions worldwide also is one of the challenges. There are genuinely still some areas lacking robust infrastructure, such as cargo handling capabilities, warehousing, and transport connectivity compared to major hubs,” said Petot.
“The biggest challenge is usually where to start. But that’s also the solution and how we approach it. Digitalisation is a bit of a chain reaction - once you have a digital anchor it’s easy to build up and down the supply chain.”
Ruthie Amaru, Chief Product Officer, Freightos
Airlines will need to digitise their booking, payment, and capacity systems and integrate them with other platforms to make digital air freight viable for everyone involved. Deploying technology needs a solid infrastructure to enable its deployment and use. This has an impact on connection and integration among various companies such as airlines, freight forwarders, GHAs, and so on.
“It is vital to understand first hand the challenges and limitations of the status quo, which is why for example, we do internships within our customers’ offices. We then co-build solutions directly alongside customers, who help to iterate and co-develop directly in the solutions space with us. This ensures the freight forwarder is front and centre of our solutions at all times and we deliver the greatest value to them. Effective digitalisation is now a key driver of efficiency, profitability and operational excellence across the industry. Digital alternatives are transforming outcomes and experiences across the air cargo ecosystem, by removing daily frictions and barriers that are integral to legacy methods of data handling and communication. Our mission is to bring to life truly connected global air cargo - we are working hard every day to future-proof the industry, in line with every growing customer and partner,” said Claussen.
Future of AI in e-booking
As firms seek to increase efficiency, save costs, and improve the customer experience, artificial intelligence is becoming increasingly crucial in digital air cargo booking.
“In the years ahead, predictive analysis and data analytics on routes and rates will become an increasing resource for freight forwarders in their consideration of capacity options. This will enable an even quicker and richer booking experience as there can be predictive elements and data-backed advice built into the booking journey. Using APIs, and the necessary infrastructures and standards, AI is likely to participate in more areas such as lane optimisation, CO2 optimisation, pricing, space, allocations etc,” said Claussen.
“The most challenging aspect of digitalisation is human change management. Embracing new technologies and processes often requires a shift in mindset and workflows.”
Matt Petot, CEO, CargoAi
AI has great potential to greatly remove further admin burden from forwarders. By using this technology to do lower value tasks, agents can focus their time and skills on high value income generating tasks, like negotiations and customer relationships.
“The future of AI in e-booking platforms has already begun and will continue to grow, primarily in the area of data aggregation, analytics and producing intelligent reports, particularly in the area of forecasting. By harnessing the power of AI-driven data analytics, users can make data-driven decisions, leading to greater operational efficiency and cost savings, leading to long-term customer satisfaction. Over the next five years, as digital adoption becomes more widespread, AI will continue to be a driving force, providing real-time insights, automating tasks, and enabling intelligent decision-making. E-booking platforms are poised to witness accelerated growth and increased competitiveness in the global landscape,” said Petot.
Even while the industry is enthusiastic about using AI for its e-booking systems, Hayman feels that the sector still has a long way to go before real AI can be implemented.
“The term AI is often used inaccurately. Most things that are described as AI are not real intelligence (ie independent thinking) – they are actually automation and statistical machine learning. The industry still has a long way to go to digitise documents and processes so they can be automated before true AI can be applied. Currently the top areas of investment by logistics companies are supply chain management systems and digital documentation and to a lesser degree warehouse automation and data analysis for inventory management. Despite the media hype, only 13% have invested in AI over the last three years. (Source: ‘Unlocking the future: Embracing digital transformation in logistics’ by CargoWise),” said Hayman.