Cargo Connectivity & Congestion: An Open Approach

By Brian Glick on October, 1 2019
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Brian Glick


Reprinted from the Spring 2019 issue of FORWARD, the magazine of the Airforwarders Assocation.

Do you use an iPhone or Android? Do you use Windows or Mac? Your answer may have more to do with your views on solving airport congestion than you’d think.

Many iPhone and Mac users love the fact that “everything just works.” Android users love the freedom to experiment with a broad ecosystem of different phone providers and software packages. That freedom comes with the inconvenience of delayed software updates and occasional incompatibilities. In IT we call this the difference between a “walled garden” (like Apple) and “open systems”.

When we think about cargo congestion issues, we’d all love to live in a world where “everything just works.” We picture a magical system that controls the flow of freight in and out of the airport, maximizing for perfect efficiency. US airports; however, are not walled gardens. They are vast, complex open systems with hundreds or thousands of stakeholders including airlines, ground handlers, shippers, truckers, forwarders, Customs and more.

As we look outwards to the best practices established at airports in other countries, it’s critical that we acknowledge and address the fundamental differences between a walled garden and open systems approach. In other regions, an airport authority or other agency may be able to force the adoption of a new centralized control system. The can require all stakeholders who want to enter the walled garden to adapt the new practices and IT systems.

In the US, we’re going to need to take a more nuanced approach. To solve this problem we’re going to need to convince the various stakeholders to help move the open system forward. In this effort, the carrot will be more valuable than the stick. There are several things that we can do together as a community to help drive real improvement.

First, we should acknowledge that each stakeholder has unique needs and motivations. Simplistically, a trucker will be concerned about wait times and won’t want to be dispatched too early, while a forwarder is most concerned with getting the cargo in their customers’ hands and may be motivated to get the trucker in quickly even if they might have to wait a bit. As we improve the open system, solutions must balance the needs of each stakeholder while showing a real benefit if we ask one stakeholder to take on additional cost for the greater good.

Next, we should embrace incrementalism. Large, complex systems problems aren’t solved by a single, silver-bullet effort. Improvements in infrastructure, IT, and business processes must be phased in over years, with each step showing some benefit. In a walled garden, you can drop in drastic change “overnight,” but in this open system, we’ll need many small wins to get to the goal.

Finally, we should celebrate the strengths of the open systems approach. While Apple gets lots of credit, 88% of all smartphones sold in 2018 were based on the open Android platform. Open systems are incredibly powerful because they allow stakeholders to experiment and innovate. Airports and core stakeholders should work together to define shared business practices and open IT interfaces that provide the framework for real collaboration. Then they should celebrate and encourage experimentation and innovation within the frame. We have hundreds of thousands of smart, motivated individuals who want this problem solved. Harnessing and channeling the open innovation that drives this country will be the key to getting it done.

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