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Back Air Logistics - Digital transformation and the future of air freight

Improving customer service through digital transformation of processes and technology.

Process automation, artificial intelligence (AI), Big Data – these concepts are firmly established in the vocabulary of industries all over the world as digital technology has rapidly transformed the way companies operate. However, until not so long ago, these words were spoken in a low voice during air cargo conferences. The main goals for digitalisation efforts have been a sustainable future for the air cargo industry, enhanced online customer experience, seamless connectivity and instant transparency of information, though the adoption rate has been relatively slow. With improved hygiene conditions as a new benefit on the list and a huge coronavirus pandemic impact on the air cargo industry, airfreight market players are reassessing the importance of digitalisation and accelerating its pace. 

Simone Huber, Global Operations Development Manager, Air Logistics.

At Kuehne+Nagel, the trendy topics of “automation,” “artificial intelligence”, “Big Data”, and “OCR (optical character recognition)” have already been in discussion for a long time, as we have always seen technology as a way we can support our customers to keep their promises and achieve their goals. A major proponent of digitalisation in Kuehne+Nagel’s Air Logistics unit is Simone Huber, our Global Operations Development Manager. Simone is the driving force behind the development and deployment of air freight digital solutions under eTouch, Kuehne+Nagel’s digital transformation initiative. “When we talk about eTouch in Air Logistics, we mean the transformation of the way we interact and operate with our customers, internally and our suppliers in order to create a seamless and attractive digital customer journey. This journey requires unbroken information flows and processes along the touchpoints of operational interaction,” says Simone. This means that to be able to meet rising customer expectations of increased transparency, communication and speed, we need to simultaneously streamline our internal processes. Kuehne+Nagel is achieving this by reducing manual data entry and ensuring instant connectivity with our suppliers for the real-time availability of information. Simone adds, “Our customers depend on that speed to make dynamic decisions and drive real-time actions that impact their business and their customers.” 

Behind-the-scenes: Shipment Data Wallet

Simone and her team of future thinkers focus systematically on shipment touchpoints, such as digital booking, status updates and invoicing. When it comes to the digital booking touchpoint, there are various channels available - EDI, myKN, (our online quote, book and track platform), and Shipment Data Wallet. Simone explains, “The speed gained in the operational process gives our customers immediate visibility of their bookings and lets our teams devote more time to our customers”. The latest development is Shipment Data Wallet, which is similar to the digital wallet on your phone that safely stores all your data. The shipment Data Wallet automatically reads and extracts the information from multiple shipment documents that customers send us, converts it into an electronic message and sends it to our transport management system to prepopulate shipment files. Automation of this process significantly reduces manual data entry and information duplication, which means that our logistics experts can spend more time with customers.

When it comes to supplier-related touchpoints, together with the colleagues, Simone has been working on the improvement of the real-time digital information exchanges with trucking partners to answer the increasing demand for status visibility. Another key project in this area is a system-to-system integration with air freight carriers. If Shipment Data Wallet can be compared with a digital wallet on your phone, then the carrier integration principle is similar to searching for a flight on a travel website. Once you have filled in the travel details and found the preferred option from a large variety of carrier offers, you proceed to the booking process and reserve your flight. For most of the air freight forwarders, the search for the best air freight option for the shipment doesn`t work in this same simple way. But not for Kuehne+Nagel’s operational teams! “To digitise the capacity quoting and booking process, we teamed up with our main carrier partners and, using the latest Application Programming Interface (API) technology, we are the first in the industry to build a tool connecting both the forwarder and multiple carrier systems,” says Simone. Thanks to direct system-to-system connectivity, the Kuehne+Nagel operator requests a quote for available capacity from many carriers in one go, automatically gets the best option, and confirms the booking for the shipment in one click, having more time for the customer and great service.

Behind-the-scenes: Carrier API* Integration

There are more eTouch projects in the development pipeline, as there is still a way to go as the industry moves towards a seamless digital customer journey, but Simone likes to be a frontrunner. “You need to be creative and open to experiments with technology and data. You need to have freedom and trust from your organisation and support from your team.  But, most importantly, you need to live in the future and make everyone around you see this future. This is the biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity for our industry,” says Simone. 

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