In Praise of an Outdated Model

by Im3pact

Posted on 10 Apr 2021

Bird's eye view of plane flying over a port terminal

The traditional freight forwarding model has received lots of criticism for being stuck in the past, still relying on manual paper-based processes. There is undoubtly ample room for improvement. However, some of the criticism and the solutions proposed to overcome it miss an important point.

When Cargo 2000 was launched more than twenty years ago there was a strong concern that integrators would threaten and increasingly replace the traditional air cargo model. That model felt dated, and the industry – were it to survive – was to become more integrator-like, with comprehensive performance reporting and seamless track and trace across the various involved parties.

More recently technology driven new entrants have been making the case that air cargo is stuck in the past, with its manual processes and transactions between different parties still being conducted by email and phone. The passenger side –so the story goes– went to online self-service years ago, and air cargo finally needs to get with the program.

In both cases, in the early C2K days as well as during the more recent technology boom, the critics clearly have a point. However, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has also shown something else: how incredibly resilient this traditional model of loosely coupled and largely decentralized, semi-autonomous participants is. It has demonstrated the power and the human ingenuity of dedicated frontline personnel in their ability to deal with high-uncertainty decision making environments. Yes, it was (and remains) painful and felt chaotic at times – a fact of life when half the capacity drops out of the market overnight. But the model (and the people powering it) delivered: it reconfigured itself, has kept the lights on for global trade, and is now providing the cold-chain backbone for global vaccine distribution.

There is no question that our industry has lots of headroom on the process and technology side. But let’s make sure that we don’t throw out the baby with bathwater. Let’s focus our attention and our efforts on providing those dedicated and ingenious people on the frontlines with the information and the tools that free them of the tedious grunt work to do what they do best: delivering solutions for shippers and consumers who ultimately pay the bill.

To allow the air cargo model to fully reap the benefits of technology while preserving its resilience, standards are absolutely crucial as a common language across a multitude of players. This is where we believe initiatives like Cargo iQ are more relevant than ever. With the right focus they can establish a common language that is forward looking and impactful. It needs to be forward looking in addressing the challenges and leveraging the technologies that we see emerging, acknowledging that different players will move at different speeds but not being trapped by legacy. And it needs to be impactful by enabling true operational integration rather than just another layer of performance reporting.