DEPENDING on how one looks at it, the air cargo business could be perceived as ‘lucky’ – because it continues to survive in an analogue state, requesting, moving, sifting through and stamping forests of paper, writes Thelma Etim.

One could argue that this approach has placed the sector on the horns of an unenviable dilemma of being ill-equipped to cope, or ride the technological tsunami which has been transforming and disrupting other world industries.

The varied technology-centred discussions, which took place at the World Economic Forum’s annual conference at Davos, Switzerland last month, are testament to the digital juggernaut gaining speed. Unlike air cargo, small to medium companies in other industries intent on making a profit amid global political and economic uncertainty are not operating in a bubble. They are not clinging on with their fingernails to outmoded paper-based formulae.

This barnstorming technological trend – now being referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution – could be construed as either exciting or frightening, depending on the size of an individual business and the transparency of its operations.

Yet, competitive advantage is carved from a combination of key factors, in particular resourcefulness, innovation, inventiveness and transparency. Therefore ejecting redundant processes and supplanting them with new automated data gathering systems is vital for survival and growth.

It’s technology – or opaque, paper-based processes

Despite all the warnings, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) routinely misses its own annual airline e-airwaybill (eAWB) electronic penetration targets, with 2016 no different from previous years. December’s eAWB status stood at 48.9 per cent, embarrassingly shy of the 56 per cent year-end target.

This is despite the fact that the air cargo industry began 2017 as it began last year – hamstrung by freight rates in free-fall, mass overcapacity, loaded with inefficiency and wastage – and yields and profitability under acute pressure.

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