Brussels Airport: Designing around digitalization

Cargo handling at Brussels Airport (BRU). Photo/Brussels Airport Co.

Digitalization can dramatically improve airport efficiency if pursued correctly, said Brussels Airport’s (BRU) head of cargo and logistics, Steven Polmans, during a discussion on efficiency at airport cargo terminals at AirCargo 2020 in Nashville, Tenn. Unfortunately, many operators fail to avoid a major pitfall of digitalization, he said.

“You should design your processes around digital capabilities,” Polmans said. “Don’t just add digital elements to your antiquated processes. Digitalizing should change your operations.”

He gave the example of an operator that “went paperless” in the sense of moving away from printing out all documentation, but still exchanged the documentation via emails, which were subsequently printed out by the receiver, adding a digital element to the workflow without saving time or increasing efficiency.

To truly drive change in airport cargo operations, Polmans said “it helps if there’s a leader who can step up and be the advocate.” He serves in this role at BRU, which has built several of its cargo processes around digital capabilities, including its slot booking and perishables management apps, through BRUcloud. The data-sharing necessary to implement those applications at airports has historically been a stumbling block in an industry in which operators are hesitant to share data, but Polmans said the method of approaching the challenge is vital.

“You can’t make data-sharing the goal because nobody can do anything with data,” he said. “Instead, we find the problem and find a solution, and for that solution we need some data. We aren’t focusing on data, we’re focusing on the solution, and they want to find that.”

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