“Should you bring back someone from the '70s, the only place that person would feel comfortable is the air cargo industry - nothing much has changed here.” It’s a quote often heard, in many variations, at air cargo conferences. While our sector may not be at the forefront of digitalization, we see a growing interest from companies, airports and communities to use technology to operate in a more connected, efficient way. It's a must to remain competitive against highly integrated players. Yet we also notice many are in doubt on where to get started, as the road from paper-based to paper-less may seem long and has proven to be more difficult than many would imagine. In this article, we’ll explain the role of the industry’s digital maturity on (the lack of) digitalization and how to factor this into your digital transformation journey.
Digital maturity reflects an organization’s ability to create value through digital. It’s an important predictor of success when launching a digital transformation. The traditional air cargo industry is slowly moving from being ‘Organized’ to ‘Digitized’ (see diagram below): while some actors are still operating traditionally, others, more digitally-minded will be using technology to streamline processes across their organization. Fact is though, the moment you step beyond the 4 walls of any organization, it’s often back to paper-based, disconnected and linear processes. A stark contrast with integrated players like UPS or DHL, or even more so the Amazons or Alibaba’s of this world, who are enjoying full traceability and connectivity across their entire supply chain. Why is it so hard to turn a traditional cargo hub into a highly Connected, and ultimately Intelligent, ecosystem?
A cargo hub is typically a fragmented environment with various stakeholders operating at different digital speeds. It might include anything from technology visionaries to early adopters to laggards – with different levels of conviction and willingness to step into a digital transformation process. This is why solutions that only generate value when all are on board, are doomed to fail. The best way to create openness and willingness is having a selected group of digitally-minded enthusiasts lead by example. Let them book first successes and demonstrate the benefits – thus setting the example and leading the way.
The best way to create openness and willingness is having a selected group of digitally-minded enthusiasts lead by example.
Digital transformation is not a matter of digitizing documents. It is all about changing processes. While it is important to have a clear long-term vision of what you ultimately wish to achieve, in particular in a less digitally mature environment it is crucial to break down the process in small steps. Trying to jump too fast, too far will either have you lose people on the way (as it will take too much time before the value is created) or put off people to consider stepping in at all (as they fail to see what’s in it for them or things seem to complex to start with). On the contrary, involving your digital-minded enthusiasts to define the low-hanging fruit will allow you to start small and focus on those processes that allow reaping first benefits fast. Which once again allows demonstrating value and leading by example to the rest of the ecosystem.
Digital transformation is not a matter of digitizing documents. It is all about changing processes.
In a fragmented community, with different actors operating at different digital speeds and each having their objectives, one cannot underestimate the process of change management. It won’t do for an airport to create the vision and then leave it up to the stakeholders to make it happen. A digital transformation will require dedication, follow-up, and support. Uniting and guiding the right people throughout the process – to define the business case, to share first successes, to onboard more users, to stimulate the extension to more processes and more functionality.
To facilitate technology adoption in a less digitally-minded environment, avoiding too heavy tech spend and massive system overhauls are crucial. Today, the right technology is available to create value by adding functionality to legacy systems and processes. Enabling them to select just the functionality that is relevant for them.
Cargo hubs wishing to attract new business and increase competitiveness against highly integrated players will have no other choice than to start working as a connected ecosystem. Although they might currently be lagging in digital maturity, the path to Connected and ultimately Intelligent work is clear. To get there, it’s a matter of moving forward step by step - with the right level of attention to mindset, processes, stakeholder management, and technology.
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