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A conversation with key speakers from the FIATA Week

The 2021 FIATA Week – the annual rendez-vous for Association Members – took place online from 22-25 March. Led by the theme ‘Driving the change’, the event took a different approach in terms of the content and delivering a thought-provoking programme. Careful attention was given to all sessions to continue building on the work accomplished by the FIATA reset programme.

The numerous sessions that took place included working meetings for the FIATA bodies to discuss strategic priorities, capacity-building sessions for members to scale up their skills on crucial topics, and high-level dialogues that enabled healthy exchanges on industry trends and developments.

A follow up to the high-level dialogues

The high-level dialogues addressed key current issues in freight forwarding and represented an important step forward for FIATA, in terms of value sharing with membership, as the sessions were opened to Association Members and Individual Members alike. The high-level dialogues on digitalization in the supply chain and safety and security threats to COVID-19 vaccine distribution supply had high participation rate.

To build on these exchanges, FIATA got in touch with guest speakers from the above sessions to discuss new developments that may have happened three months after their participation.

Discussing digitalization in the supply chain:

  • Stéphane Noll, Head of Digital Engagement and Transformation at CHAMP
  • Henk Mulder, Head of Digital Cargo at IATA
  • Steve Walker, Consultant and Advisor in Freight Forwarding  

Discussing safety and security threats to COVID-19 vaccine distribution supply chain:

  • Andrea Gruber, Head of Special Cargo at IATA
  • Frank Ewald, Head of Corporate Security & Crisis Management at DHL
  • Benoit Dubuis, Director at Campus Biotech   

Digitalization in the supply chain

Why should companies invest in digitalization and is it really the right time to do so (given the crisis context due to the pandemic)?

Henk Mulder: The pandemic has led to a reduction in air cargo capacity which is unlikely to return to pre-COVID levels, and this has made air cargo a high-value product i.e. more costly for forwarders and their customers, requiring all participants in the air cargo supply chain to treat airfreight with more care, and with a higher focus on quality and efficiency. The very rapid growth in e-commerce also puts more requirements on airfreight, which is its principal mode of transport. Digitalization is the only tool that will allow airfreight stakeholders to manage these increased quality and efficiency requirements effectively. The investment required, is directly linked to the importance of airfreight now and it is a necessity, not a ‘nice-to-have’, as it may have been before the crisis.

Stéphane Noll: Digital platforms are getting more popular, so it becomes easier to connect and collaborate online. It is a fantastic opportunity to improve your business analytics and processes. It is not really a matter of the right timing, but rather competitiveness and efficiency. Regulators are getting more data savvy, as they have realized through the pandemic how important it is to have efficient borders in place. Digitalization has enabled many customs operations to keep running despite limited staff available. There are many factors, external and internal, which should push you to reconsider your business processes and value proposition around a digital backbone. Such investment is paramount to remain attractive and competitive. 

Steve Walker: Forwarders have risen to the challenge of digitization, enabling home working to keep logistics moving. If they had not, much of our infrastructure would have failed.

How do you perceive the importance of collaboration among the different actors of the supply chain to achieve digitalization of the supply chain?

SN: Within our industry, FIATA initiatives will help in catching up with other industries that are better digitalized. This will be done by facilitating the digital distribution of FIATA up-to-date standard trade documents, digital IDs to ease the membership processes and control, in other words providing the fundamentals for improving our industry business processes. So it is not just a matter of perception, as FIATA is setting the foundations to enable a digital collaboration among all actors of the supply chain.

HM: In practice, most airfreight stakeholders already have a high degree of digitalization with their own environment. Most airfreight stakeholders manage their business from behind screens, not from typewriters and piles of paper. What is missing is the efficient flow of data between these stakeholders and actors. This can only be addressed through cooperation. Cooperation in the development and use of standards like e-BL, e-AWB and ONE Record; but also cooperation in the development of pilots and tests on trade lanes to bring these standards to life. This includes logistics and transport companies, as well as their IT solution providers and their industry associations and organizations.

SW: You refer to it as different actors, I prefer horizontal collaboration within our sector or even from outside software houses and carriers, on condition the data is kept in our industry. Better to fail trying to establish new relationships than continuing with more of the same.

Safety and security threats to COVID-19 vaccine distribution supply

Are there any lessons learned from the session and your interactions with the other panellists/moderator that you would like to share, three months after the event?

Andrea Gruber: Awareness of the threat is increasing, so all supply chain stakeholders are increasingly alerted of the level of risk due to criminal activity targeting vaccine supply. Although the air cargo industry already has processes in place because of already existing pharmaceutical counterfeit product that tried to enter the supply chain, the industry needed to be scaled up for the volume of vaccines and protect such products against tampering, theft, counterfeit, contraband. Since the session, the situation remains stable, but we do see the focus on digitalization, traceability and monitoring shipments increasing.

Benoît Dubuis:  I’m not a logistics professional, but we can see that logistics is in good hands. It has been largely professionalized and adapted to the new constraints. I am at the beginning of the chain. We are working on the quality and safety of products and must ensure that out of production, logistics ensures the routing instructions and the integrity of the products. In the case of vaccines, which was widely discussed, this involves the respect of the cold chain. We have very unusual constraints that have forced companies to adapt. Understanding the seriousness with which these elements are managed is a great relief, because in the case of this pandemic, the effectiveness and safety of the products has a direct impact on our health and even on the global health.

Frank Ewald: It was very insightful to see how the pharmaceutical and scientific sectors, as well as aviation, addressed the diverse issues pertaining to vaccine distribution security.

As the global vaccination campaign is progressing, can you say that the main threats remain the same? Or are there new trends to watch out for?

AG: The threat remains the same as it touches pharmaceutical products, now it is vaccines and in the future it will be any type of commodity. However, what has been seen growing since the vaccine roll out – and its shortage at the beginning – is the number of COVID-19 vaccine scams online. These are cybercriminals trying to take advantage of the fact that people want to be the first in getting the vaccines. Authorities have a big educational task ahead in making the public aware of this threat.

BD:  I mentioned the risks linked to the cold chain in the previous question. If this remains an essential element, the latest scientific information seems to show that we can expect less severe constraints and therefore logistic conditions closer to those we know and master. On the other hand, other security elements will become increasingly important, among them those related to counterfeiting. As we have only a few vaccines and their distribution is highly regulated, the risk is real, but the cases have remained isolated. There is no doubt that counterfeiting is going to be much more active, and it is our responsibility to protect ourselves effectively against this, since its impact is certainly economic, but above all affects our health.

FE: From our experience, we saw the same issues and crime phenomena. Nevertheless, we see an increase of criminal activity specifically when it comes to the falsification of documents.

There have been reports in the news of counterfeit products or fake vaccines that are becoming a tangible threat. How can logistics professionals best support efforts to mitigate this threat?

BD: Numerous countermeasures, mostly applied in other sectors, are in place ranging from logistical considerations to anti-counterfeiting product tagging. These measures are not made public for obvious reasons, but are central to the protection strategy.

FE: As addressed in the panel, we need to put heightened attention on our implemented supply chain security measures. As I understand, it is just possible to introduce counterfeit products into legitimate supply chains if security protocols are not followed adequately.

AG: To best support the effort is through appropriate means of real time exchange of information and established risk management procedures to ensure the interception of counterfeit and sub-standard (not fit for purpose) vaccines. Once border or enforcement agencies, health authorities or manufacturers, are made of aware of any counterfeit product, it is critical that the logistic partners are informed to ensure the shipment is taken out of the supply chain. Airfreight partners apply a quarantine status for pharmaceutical shipments which are then isolated physically or by other effective means, in case they are suspected of being or found to be counterfeit, damaged or recalled – for example – until a decision is given by the shipper or the entity representing the shipper on their further disposition.

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