IBS Software’s Vision for Seamless Connectivity and Collaboration in the Air Cargo Industry

In a bid to revolutionize the air cargo industry, IBS Software is at the forefront of driving innovation and efficiency through its digital platforms. Recently, we had the privilege to delve into the minds of Ashok Rajan, Senior Vice President and Global Head of Cargo & Logistics Solutions and Radhesh Menon, Vice President and Head of Strategy & Product Management of IBS Software as they shared insights on the significance of establishing a digital ecosystem, their mission and vision for the industry, empowering airlines through collaboration platforms, technological advancements, and future priorities. Edited excerpts:

Could you elaborate on the significance of establishing a digital ecosystem for airfreight, and how does IBS Software contribute to realizing this vision?

Rajan: Our perspective on this industry was shaped by the recognition of its inherent siloed nature, where stakeholders were connected by outdated legacy messaging formats. To address this challenge, we have made significant advancements in connectivity. For example, we introduced a series of platforms known as iPartner, which extends beyond our core platform.

One of these platforms, iPartner Handler, addresses the limited control and information flow between airlines and ground handlers. This platform facilitates robust communication enabling efficiency gains such as reduced ground presence. Additionally, we have adapted to the emergence of other digital platforms like CargoOne by launching iPartner Customer. This solution connects airlines with multiple players, offering streamlined connectivity solutions. Our ongoing efforts focus on breaking down industry silos, transforming disparate systems into a cohesive ecosystem that promotes efficient communication and collaboration.

Menon: Another significant aspect of our approach is the emphasis on facilitating connectivity beyond our core system. Integration is a key focus as the industry evolves into a more open marketplace. Providing flexibility to our customers is essential, achieved through APIs and similar tools that simplify engagement within the digital ecosystem.

Moreover, we actively seek partnerships with complementary service providers to enhance our offerings. For instance, we recently announced a partnership with Pay Cargo to enable seamless integration for handling payments. This collaboration addresses a traditionally neglected area prone to manual processes and revenue leakage, presenting a valuable opportunity for improvement. Through strategic partnerships like these, we aim to deliver added value to our customers by streamlining processes and enhancing operational efficiency.

We focus on providing pre-wired solutions instead of expecting customers to build the necessary infrastructure themselves. Our approach is to offer ready-made solutions that customers can easily sign up for and start using immediately.

Can you provide an overview of IBS Software’s mission and vision for the air cargo industry, particularly in regards to seamless connectivity and collaboration platforms?

Rajan: IBS, as a company, specializes in delivering digital platforms for the travel transportation industry. We operate five distinct digital platforms and our primary focus is on the cargo business segment. Over the past 15 to 20 years, our expertise has been honed through our flagship platform – iCargo. iCargo caters to both air freight operators and ground handlers, offering a comprehensive end-to-end solution that is unique in the industry.

Menon: We initially assessed the market and recognized a significant demand for next-generation solutions. At that time, the market was largely dominated by legacy software providers, presenting a clear opportunity for modernization. Our growth has been fuelled by acquiring new customers and expanding our platform. Over the years, we have continuously enhanced our offering by introducing new modules. Our vision was to address the issue of fragmented systems and siloed operations by unifying everything under a singular plan, which guided our development efforts.

Rajan: Our approach to the market has always been centered around our customers, rather than presenting a pre-packaged solution. We began by establishing a core group of influential partners, comprising five carriers, to guide us in shaping our platform. This involved soliciting feedback and insights on what a modern platform should entail. Today, this customer-centric approach remains integral to our development process. We have transitioned from a core building team to a broader user community, convening regularly every six months to gather feedback and direction. This collaborative process has been instrumental in our growth. Presently, we are proud to serve nearly 50% of the top 50 carriers in terms of Freight Tonne Kilometers (FTKs).

Menon: Our evaluation is based on the critical systems they use to operate their core business functions, encompassing sales, handling operations, revenue accounting, billing, and related aspects. This comprehensive approach has enabled us to capture approximately 50% of the market share by Freight Tonne Kilometers (FTKs). In this industry, we hold the top position with a commanding 50% market share. Our growth trajectory has been remarkable, starting at around 17% in 2015 and significantly expanding over the past eight to nine years. This rapid expansion encapsulates our growth story. 

In what ways does IBS Software’s collaboration platform empower airlines to expand their sales reach through digital channels?

Menon: The first aspect is the ease of doing business. To excel in sales, two key factors come into play. First, the quality of your product must be excellent. Second, the size of your reach matters – how broad is your network? This wider reach increases your sales potential, acting as a multiplier. To facilitate this, we have focused on enabling seamless connectivity with customers through initiatives like iPartner Customer. This investment allows us to integrate with various sales channels effortlessly. Additionally, we are actively developing direct connections with forwarder systems, streamlining the process for forwarders to engage with our customers. This enhanced connectivity significantly improves the ease of conducting business, thereby boosting sales opportunities.

Rajan: Within our platform, we offer web channels that enable direct connectivity with customers. Additionally, we provide sales tools designed to empower salespeople, recognizing that in-person sales remain crucial. These tools equip sales professionals with customer information at their fingertips, facilitating activities like booking and enhancing effectiveness during face-to-face interactions. While digital sales are a priority, we acknowledge the continued importance of traditional manual sales and strive to enhance their efficiency. Another key focus is expanding the range of products our customers can create. We believe there is untapped potential in the industry, and we aim to maximize value by enabling our customers to leverage a broader spectrum of offerings.

Menon: One example of expanding product offerings is through ancillary sales, which is relatively unfamiliar in the cargo industry except for basic ancillary services. We are exploring concepts like selling insurance for valuable cargoes. Additionally, we are enhancing our sales engine to empower sales professionals to not only offer cargo space but also provide ancillary services seamlessly.

Rajan:  Additionally, we prioritize ensuring that you can deliver on your promises. When you make sales, it’s essential to fulfill what you’ve offered. Our systems prompt and enable users to monitor critical aspects such as timely feeding for live cargo or ensuring the safety of valuable shipments. This capability enhances credibility, particularly for high-value sales transactions. We approach this with a holistic perspective. Often, the industry operates in isolated silos, with sales teams solely focused on sales. However, delivering quality is a critical aspect that directly influences sales effectiveness.

What unique insights can you share about the evolving landscape of air cargo and the role technology plays in shaping its future?

Rajan: Over the past 20 to 25 years, the significance of technology in our industry has undergone a notable shift. Previously, our technology solutions were often viewed as an additional cost. However, in recent years, there has been a fundamental change where digital solutions have become essential to core business operations.

Unlike before, where our discussions primarily involved Chief Information Officers (CIOs), we now engage directly with Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) because digital solutions are integral to driving new business initiatives and are considered part of the business itself. This shift has allowed us to adapt and develop tailored solutions aligned with this strategic direction.

Specifically, we now engage in numerous Proof of Concepts (POCs) with customers to explore forward-looking technologies such as blockchain. Through these initiatives, we collaboratively identify potential solutions to existing challenges. While not all concepts may be adopted in the long term, many of these innovations prove to be valuable and contribute to our evolving suite of solutions.

As the VP & Head Of Strategy & Product Management, how does IBS Software stay ahead of industry trends and anticipate the changing needs of airlines and ground handlers in the air cargo sector?

Menon: We have several strategies in place to drive innovation within our organization. Firstly, we heavily invest in internal Research and Development (R&D) and actively participate in industry bodies such as IATA, where we contribute to technical working committees and gain valuable insights.

Secondly, we prioritize benchmarking not only against competitors but also monitor innovative practices from our customers and non-customers alike. This allows us to identify emerging trends and technologies, which we can potentially ‘productize’ and integrate into our offerings.

Thirdly, we leverage a robust community platform comprising our cargo customers as a valuable sounding board for new ideas. We engage with this community to gather feedback and inspiration, which informs our innovation initiatives.

Furthermore, we promote cross-utilization of ideas and technologies across our product lines. For example, innovations developed for passenger or crew management may inspire new solutions tailored for cargo operations. We have established an AI center of excellence that spans across all our product lines, enabling us to apply advanced technologies like dynamic pricing solutions originally developed for retail to cargo-related challenges.

By embracing these collaborative and multidisciplinary approaches, we aim to drive continuous innovation and deliver impactful solutions that meet the evolving needs of our customers across various sectors of the transportation industry.

Could you discuss any recent innovations or developments within IBS Software that are particularly exciting or game-changing for the air cargo industry?

Menon: Recently, we introduced our own integrated revenue management solution that marks a departure from traditional off-the-shelf offerings. What sets this solution apart is its complete integration with our core platform, seamlessly extending the sales process.

Moreover, we opted for non-traditional models like machine learning instead of conventional statistical or modeling approaches. This shift is crucial because air cargo operations are highly dynamic and unpredictable, making it challenging to discern patterns using traditional methods. By leveraging machine learning, we enhance processes such as pricing, capacity management, and automation, enabling optimized responses to scenarios like cancellations or downsizing.

Looking ahead, what are the key priorities and focus areas for IBS Software in further enhancing its offerings and driving innovation within the air cargo ecosystem?

Rajan: One key factor that allowed us to enter the industry was the lack of investment by incumbents in modernizing their platforms. Unlike others, we have consistently prioritized modernization efforts and are currently engaged in a major initiative to re-platform our system for the future, ensuring its relevance for the next 20 years. Another important focus area is translating industry initiatives like OneRecord into tangible and user-friendly solutions for our customers. While such initiatives are often discussed in various forums, our commitment lies in making them practical and accessible for real-world applications.

Menon: One of our guiding principles is to identify problems first and then seek appropriate solutions, rather than implementing solutions in search of problems. This approach is particularly evident in our use of technologies like AI. Instead of adopting AI for its own sake, we focus on identifying concrete problems that AI can effectively address. This mindset is integral to our innovation process. When our product managers propose new ideas internally, the emphasis is always on why addressing a specific problem matters, rather than solely focusing on the technical details of how or what to implement. By adhering to this problem-centric approach, we ensure that our innovations are purposeful and impactful.

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