Most air cargo logistics companies have long acknowledged that e-commerce eventually will be the dominant force behind trade around the world. But in an industry that still has a global adoption rate of less than 40 percent for paperless air waybill systems, many have had trouble finding ways to wean themselves off of their legacy IT systems and struggle to make their operations secure while also making them more flexible, transparent and responsive to the e-commerce demands of shippers.
Enter Terry Hartmann, vice president, travel and transportation, for Unisys’ U.S. and Canada operations. For the last 30 years, he has helped companies protect themselves from identity theft and other security breaches, using techniques learned from Unisys’ extensive experience providing border security between the U.S. and Mexico and Canada. Today, Unisys software helps secure and manage more than 20 percent of the world’s cargo. In recent months, Unisys has added cloud-based IT services for MASkargo and Air Canada.
Air Cargo World spoke with Hartmann during the June Air Cargo 2016 conference in Phoenix and discussed some of the ways to balance the need for sharing digital information with clients in real time while maintaining the integrity of the data.
Q: How can cloud-based IT systems help forwarders manage?
From a freight perspective, e-commerce is about transportation being part of the buying process. Customers have an expectation that goods will be delivered quickly, reliably and securely – and most of all that they can track them. Where freight forwarders get into e-commerce more is by providing distribution hubs, being able to deal with repairs, with returns and exchanges – all the things you have to provide as a retailer. From our perspective, it’s about providing much more visibility and much more detail in tracking, about much more use of analytics, in terms of identifying the bottlenecks.
Q: How can you maintain security while increasing visibility?
When we start to talk about security, it’s not just one monolithic security approach to your entire network. Once you start having airlines joining up with freight forwarders and with retailers, then you’re linking a number of different areas. Since we want everyone to have the same level of access, you develop a “community of interest” in terms of cargo. We have a product, called Stealth, that encrypts the data securely, but also allows a community of interest to be set up in software. Only the people who have a need to know about the data can access it.
Q: What are some of the advantages to basing your IT in the cloud?
Say you have a data center where you’re running your operation and, as you often are around the holiday times, you’re running over capacity. We can use that same product – Stealth Extended Data Center – to send your operation into the cloud, with encryption and with full security around that. You can use that as a short-term oversupply, put your virtual machines into the cloud, run your operation, and when your volume ramps down, you can just head back to within your own data center. So it’s providing you with complete virtual security and an advantage over someone who’s providing point software solutions.
Q: How does your system assist with cross-border e-commerce?
About one-third of all e-commerce is cross-border. So, being plugged in, as we are, to the customs regulations faced by our high-volume carrier clients gives us an advantage. You’re not queuing up at the borders to get your goods through. E-commerce brings in new ways of managing belly freight, so you have the ability to combine shipments and clear them for multiple consignments. If you reduce the end-to-end transit time, and you provide high-quality reliability and consistency, and then you’re going to get clientele.
Q: How do you stay on top of changing customs regulations?
We work where our clients fly. If they go to a new region, then we work with the customs organizations to bring those regulations into our system. You have to deal with security issues and work with government. One of the problems with e-commerce at the moment is lithium batteries – you’ve got to have strong knowledge of the manifest and how the goods have been packaged and what you have to do to address security concerns. That all creates a database of expertise you can leverage.
Q: Where do you see the most growth in cloud-based systems?
We’re doing it globally, but particularly in markets like China, which has the fastest growing e-commerce activity in the world. Alibaba, for example – the Amazon of China – is growing, but not only that, it’s cross-border business is where it’s growing hugely, and going both ways. You start to have hundreds of thousands of small to medium-sized enterprises that can deliver to a market beyond the village that they’re in to a global market… India is going to follow, too. They’re going to issue millions of national IDs to people, and those sorts of technologies will facilitate electronics. [E-commerce] has a compound annual growth rate of 15 percent, and this is going to drive the growth of global airfreight, in general.
NOTE: Hartmann will take part in the panel discussion, “Shipping and the Digital Economy: Aligning Airfreight to E-Commerce,” at Air Cargo World’s upcoming ELEVATE 2016 Conference, to be held Oct. 10 in Miami.