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Guest Column: Marie Seco-Köppen

By Marie Seco-Köppen, Corp. Air Freight Process Digitalization Manager, DSV Panalpina A/S

Delays result in production lines to stand still, mobile phones missing on shelves or, terribly painful, a masterpiece turning up after the temporary exhibition has closed its doors. Then there are the “near misses” and those delays that have no real impact as an extra truck was organized.

For one of my online orders - leather shoes that perfectly fitted my dress - I received a friendly personal email (not one of those auto-generated messages) and a call announcing a one-week delay of the delivery of my shoes. My order was taken very seriously, and I felt valued, as the Spanish shoe retailer could not have guessed that I needed them for my cousin’s wedding. That meant that I still had the possibility to consider buying a backup pair of high heels.

In the sleek online world, we are increasingly conditioned by commercials to expect everything to look and feel seamless and smooth. We assume well-oiled machines with one perfectly tuned assembly line, when the reality in air cargo is a maze of distinct and specialized actors operating within their own systems. Freight forwarders, truckers, ground handlers and airlines are closely cooperating to move the goods to the customer. When badly forecasted shipper’s volumes reach this network, delays are inevitable. Payload restrictions are common re-booking causes and some flight delays cannot be prevented.

How does this industry deal with such incidents? The diligently logging of incidents, the systematic analysis of data, and the design of preventative actions, is an essential process. Let us be clear: we want to avoid incidents in the first place and that is why joint continuous improvement is important.

Frankly, there is more to it. For a freight forwarder, the “performance” is not only an after-the-fact story. There is a natural reluctance to communicate about incidents, but it is time to understand that the exchange of information goes far beyond a blame game. Bad news does not get better over time. However, in the case of a delay, it is still a valuable piece of information.

In the case of an incident, an airline has no insight into the freight forwarder’s recovery times or alternatives on hand to avoid delay for the end-customer. That is why an early information exchange is crucial because it allows for a reaction.

In fact, the freight forwarder, on his turn, will not be aware of recovery times on the end-customer side. Here, I think of a manufacturer where the production planner, in case of a delay, could opt to adjust planning, rather than having a production line standing still for a day.

Proactive tracking and the communication of delays while the cargo is under way can make a huge difference. For example, we can avoid our customers having to turn up to a chic wedding with bare feet.

The collaborative approach to planning and the exchange of milestones, as promoted by Cargo iQ, is quite an achievement in this context. Now, such data exchange has to be taken to the next level and include exceptions. Not each exception but critical exceptions.

A shipment is expected to be under control and receiving proactive information about the goods in case the execution plan is changing is a customer expectation.

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