Simplifying data-sharing

posted on 29th May 2019
Simplifying data-sharing

IATA’s ONE Record, a common standard for sharing data across the air cargo supply chain, is now mature enough to be ‘deployable’, reports Donald Urquhart

An ambitious project to create a common standard for data sharing across the air cargo supply chain, IATA’s ONE Record, has now reached a mature enough level to be ‘deployable’ by IT specialists, and bring air cargo communications more fully into the 21st century.

IATA’s head of digital cargo, Henk Mulder, says ONE Record holds great promise in enabling innovation across the air freight sector. Using an analogy of music technology, Mulder notes that when the cassette tape came out in the 1960s, the ability to make and share mix-tapes of music with friends was “freedom”. Cassette tapes became CDs, and CDs became downloadable MP3s, and MP3s became streaming music, available whenever and wherever you want it.

Meanwhile, Electronic Data Interchange or EDI came about at the same time as the ‘old-school’ cassettes, but with one very big difference: EDI has not evolved the way music mediums have – or barely at all.

Now in 2019 we are in the middle of Economy 4.0,” Mulder says. “When I see that word, it evokes images of robots, machine learning, AI, Blockchain, all these fancy images,” but yet air cargo appears “stuck in the era of the cassette tape”, Mulder says.

Economy 4.0

He notes that when we talk about Economy 4.0, we don’t know exactly where this is going to take us; but he says as long as we keep incrementally adding things, it will take us somewhere very interesting.  “Putting another brick in the wall of Economy 4.0” is how Mulder describes ONE Record. “… and hopefully allow it to move forward in air freight to do more interesting things then we are doing today.”

The backers of ONE Record – IATA and the industry – have a vision for ONE Record: it’s an end-to-end digital logistics and transport supply chain where data is “easily and transparently exchanged in a digital ecosystem of air cargo stakeholders, communities and data platforms”. To put this in real-world terms, it’s a network aimed at sharing data without third-party intervention. It also links data using the humble URL we all know as the bedrock of the World Wide Web. This means access to data is access to the original, not a copy of a copy.

Freight as a ‘language’

ONE Record also relies on ‘ontologies’, which Mulder describes as being “like a language”: basically, freight as a language where context allows different parts of the supply chain to interact and understand each other when it comes to data. This is increasingly important, he says, because new data models are continuously being developed, increasing the complexity of data exchange.

It’s also about all-important data security – for example, is the person you are considering sharing data with, really the person they say they are? ONE Record will provide this authentication, through a network of identity providers such as IATA for air carriers and other community members for other parts of the supply chain.

Mulder says the effort has been very much focused on the airline-forwarder relationship, “but when you start looking at how we have to improve connectivity in the industry, going all the way up and down the supply chain, it’s from shipper to consignee.” All the parties need to be able to interact with a standard like this, he adds.

Multi-modal projects

Currently the ONE Record team is working on several multi-modal projects and has started ‘mini-pilots’ involving some 40 companies, the purpose of which is to validate whether what has been done so far is fit for purpose, and to communicate back where improvements in the API, ontology and security can be made.

ONE Record is the work of over 60 participants from across the breadth of the supply chain and has been endorsed by the IATA Cargo Services Committee in Singapore at the WCS 2019 as a recommended practice.