Having obtained the International Air Transport Association’s Center of Excellence for Independent Validators in Pharmaceutical Logistics certification in July 2018, the cargo division of Swiss International Air Lines continues to look for additional ways to increase the quality and to keep up with the demands of the pharma business.
“Generally, we’re known for good quality and understanding what’s needed, and the customers know that we have quite a large focus on pharma already, but the certification allows for easier audits by shippers or forwarders and helps to attract new business,” said Andrés Perez, head of business development and customer experience at Swiss WorldCargo, in an interview during the transport logistic China 2018 conference and exhibition in Shanghai. “Many of our pharma-oriented forwarders actually have requirements that are higher than CEIV, so it’s a basis but it’s not always sufficient. For me, the pharma shippers are definitely among the most demanding, with constant development. Customers in the valuables sector are also very demanding, but there’s not much development from a process or technical perspective.”
When Swiss was initially looking at the CEIV Pharma certification, Perez said that the carrier saw it as an added value, but it has now become clear that it is becoming a standard.
“You need the certification if you want to play in the field,” he said. “If you don’t have the same quality understanding along this fragmented chain, it makes things risky. You can tell an airline or a handler to do something but if they don’t know why, they might not do it every single time.”
The certification will also further support Swiss WorldCargo’s pharma corridors, a collection of selected pharma-heavy trade lanes where the carrier can ensure that all the parties in the chain are compliant with global standards from origin to destination. In the Asia-Pacific region, the list includes Singapore and Tokyo, both strong in terms of production and imports.
“For China, we don’t see too many finished goods yet but I think semi-finished products will grow,” Perez said. “India is especially challenging since the focus is on generics, which have lower margins. They’re not that willing to pay too much for transportation and at the same time are also saving money on the packaging. With the tough weather conditions and not very sophisticated packaging, it can be very challenging. So we do carry pharma traffic from India, but not in the very low price segments.”
One thing which stands out from customer feedback on what needs to be improved is digitalization. According to Perez, large companies usually have everything covered and traceable in their electronic systems, from sourcing to production, to planning to finally selling to a distributor.
“But within this supply chain is the interruption of transportation and there they always have to work with estimates and limited visibility,” he said. “This affects their planning. They don’t want to go to a forwarder’s or an airline’s webpage to track a shipment. They want to see clearly where a particular batch or order is at any time, and possibly other parameters like the weather conditions. The various touch points along the customer journey all need to be digitalized.”
The problem is that, because there are so many partners, every party in the process is collecting and storing their own data, which gets scattered across many different systems.
“There are some industry standards that define how this exchange should work, but not the kind of open XML solutions where you can transmit whatever you want,” Perez said. “For me, this industry is far behind other industries in digitalization. We have to work on electronic data interchange so everything can be fully integrated. This will not be solved in 2018, but at least we can tackle some of the issues.”
As an example, Perez said that there are still a lot of smaller forwarders that prefer to send emails and might not be able to create an EDI connection because they don’t have the right system or the money for it. Swiss is working with artificial intelligence to develop an application which will be able to read emails and immediately create a reservation or an order confirmation in the carrier’s own system to avoid the need for employees to read and type out emails.
“Automating that means our salespeople can focus on selling rather than order intake,” he said. “Our solution needs time to learn and still needs to be improved, but when you push the button it takes less than a second for the data to enter our system. Human confirmation is still needed at the end, but the whole process has already been sped up a lot. We have a prototype which is being tested and we definitely expect to roll it out in English-speaking countries by the end of the year, with other languages to follow.”
Perez noted that this would only be a bridging solution for people who still send emails, and doesn’t solve the root of the problem, which is the lack of an EDI connection.
With everybody wanting to digitalize, everything will be made very transparent, but the challenge is that if there is any kind of abnormality or incident, the shipper, the forwarder, the handler and the airline will all have the same information at the same time.
“If the shipper calls the forwarder or the forwarder calls the airline, you cannot pick up the phone and just say you will look into it,” said Perez. “You need to be able to provide and answer immediately and say that you’re already taking measures to address the issue or prevent it, or that you’ve already solved it. It also means that people who might not know the complexities of the air cargo process will raise questions that you have to answer, but I don’t think that this is something we can avoid.”
Enhanced customer care is not only inevitable but necessary, particularly for a smaller airline like Swiss. While airlines might currently be able to be picky about customers because capacity is so limited, the market could easily change in the opposite direction again. To that end, Swiss takes every step to ensure that it remains very close to its customers and offers them a high level of quality.
“Some large forwarders refer to us as their boutique airline, combining a certain quality and a personalized touch,” Perez said. “I’d say that those two things are our right for existence.”
By Jeffrey Lee
Asia Cargo News | Shanghai