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Karl Crowther, Vice President Of Alteryx, MEA Sheds Lights On How Logistics Can Learn From Air Freight In 2023


Predictability, reliability, and consistency are three sacred hallmarks of logistics and supply chain success. If deliveries don’t get where they need to go on time, each time, every time, then the trust process breaks down, and the promise of on-time freight delivery goes down with it.

The double-edged sword of disruption cuts both during and after the event. With the reduced supply of a product available but consistent demand, stores will rapidly sell out, and end-customer purchasing behaviour will adjust. We saw this during COVID-19 when shoppers panic-bought essentials – pushing artificial shortages. Despite eminently manageable supply chain issues, the perception of reduced supply drove demand through the roof and caused even more chaos.

The difference between organisations that have thrived – versus just survived – amidst this disruption comes down to those who have – and have not – effectively used data to make decisions. Nowhere is this trend seen as significantly as in the air freight industry, and with an adequate understanding of customer needs and changing external signals, supply chain managers can use real-time insights to inform decisions quickly. By delivering insights on demand forecasting, material availability, inventory levels, and SKU rationalisations, successful businesses were able to combat market disruption at pace.

Large-scale disruption continues to be seen across all industries today. The air freight industry faces similar challenges. While far-reaching and impactful, disruption can also be contextually simple to identify and mitigate with the correct data.

Changing Business Environments Require Fast Insights

Historically, without the insights to assess macro demand or identify interruptions in advance, supply chain specialists could not make fast decisions to mitigate that disruption. In an era defined by uncertainty and upheaval, this lack of business intelligence is no longer a feasible strategy. Leaders who once made decisions based on gut instinct and pattern recognition alone are now finding entirely new patterns – ones that are wholly different from those they have experienced.

Alteryx-commissioned IDC research highlighted that 71% of global businesses believe ‘the business landscape is changing faster than ever.’ For the UAE specifically, it highlighted a huge demand for faster insights – fuelled by data and AI analytics – to overcome that industry disruption and fully harness decision intelligence for business benefit.

Dubai International Airport, for example, completely reimagined its passenger demand forecasting using analytics. They delivered 40% improvements in passenger wait times over two years. They combined camera and sensor data in their Airport Operations Control centre, collating it against live flight arrival times, to give them the minute-by-minute decision intelligence they needed to deliver on their business goals.

Air freight is traditionally used for urgent items like medicine or perishables that would not last on a long sea voyage. Due to the high-value items transported and the importance of them being delivered on time, air freight developed a well-earned reputation for success – delivering on time, each time, every time. With requirements for predictability, reliability, and consistency, alongside those tight delivery timeframes, the aviation sector has – by necessity – transformed into an innovation crucible.

The key ingredient behind these innovations is data – collected, transformed, understood, and utilised for decisions across the business landscape.

The Competition Crucible: Why Data Is The Deciding Factor

Accessible data, upskilled teams, and easy-to-use analytic technology are all key to the aviation sector’s success – as is an overarching business imperative to do more with less. There are core lessons for supply chain specialists to learn here. Analytical adoption like this is essential to fast and predictable cargo delivery as and when needed.

In many cases, the missing ingredient is a lack of human talent. Our IDC research shows that 82% of UAE businesses do not closely match their technology investment with the human upskilling and training required to take advantage of that technology.

Data democratisation and analytics upskilling are the core ingredients needed to solve this challenge – giving the workers closest to the problem the tools they need to solve it themselves. After all, if you’re lost and looking for directions, you’ll ask the delivery driver, not the data science team.

Just as every cloud has a silver lining, so to does every challenge come with the opportunity for change. This utilisation of data and analytics insights in the air freight sector is a case study for wider analytic adoption in the UAE logistics space.

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