Preparing for a Smart Digital Future

For more than 30 years, Cargonaut has been working to make cargo processes run more smoothly at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. And, since 2020, Schiphol has been the proud owner of Cargonaut. Now, Cargonaut is doing a massive overhaul of its Port Community System (PCS) platform, to ensure that it can continue to support digital innovation that keeps cargo flowing through Schiphol. We spoke to Jeroen Benda, Director of IT at Cargonaut, to find out more.

Jeroen Benda

The power of the Port Community System

PCS enables every member of the air cargo chain – from forwarders to handlers to truckers to airlines – to accelerate and streamline their movements in, at and through Schiphol. Cargonaut’s powerful and robust PCS platform allows parties to digitally track movements through the entire process, expedite customs clearance, and more. ‘PCS digitally manages any shipment through Schiphol from start to finish. When a forwarder sends us a message through PCS about a movement, we connect that shipment to the handlers in the destination company, alert customs about its arrival, and connect all the points of the chain,’ Jeroen explains. ‘This saves forwarders time and energy, and helps minimise delays at every step in the process.’

Stepping into the future

Now, PCS is going through a major upgrade. Although the system is still working effectively and efficiently now, Jeroen says that Cargonaut and Schiphol have their eyes on the future. ‘Our aim is to make the platform even simpler, faster and more effective. Cargo partners work together under the umbrella of Air Cargo Netherlands (ACN) and in the Smart Cargo Mainport Program on a smarter cargo flow. We are working to support the industry with a 100% pre-announced export process, with which handlers can announce their arrival ahead of time, and need to only swipe an ID card to process their shipments at Schiphol, from the air waybill and slot booking to dock booking to customs entry declarations. A complete, end-to-end, fully digital system,’ Jeroen explains. ‘This will save an incredible amount of time. We also want to work with the industry to enable a similar system for importing.’

But that’s not all. Using the latest technology and working from the feedback from cargo partners, the refreshed PCS system will allow more flexibility and functionality than ever. ‘The platform will support Cargo XML, which so many of our partners already use. And it will enable cargo partners to link their digital back-end to our system. Which means they won’t need our app to use the system. PCS will also allow third-party companies to develop new applications and connect them directly to the PCS system, which will further accelerate digital innovation in the chain. Of course, the digital upgrade also includes the very highest level of security and data privacy measures,’ Jeroen says.

Steps taken so far

The upgrade process got started in 2019, and took flight in 2020. Cargonaut has established work teams for every stage of the process, defined the fundamentals, designed and tested the PCS Foundation system and had their first migration deep-dive session. The team will do a like-for-like replacement of the complete system, and will test and secure each component before adding it to PCS.

Any IT transformation project is bound to come with a few hiccups. But since nearly 400 cargo partners already make use of the PCS system, even small issues can be a big problem. That’s why the upgrade team will run the new system in parallel to the old one, and work out any bugs before completing the migration. ‘Migrating our users from the old PCS to the new one needs to be seamless,’ Jeroen says. ‘Current users won’t even notice the difference. But they will certainly notice the additional functionality and possibilities the new system will offer.’

Supporting Schiphol’s ambition

Jeroen explains that Cargonaut would have needed to upgrade PCS no matter what. After all, any tech platform that’s been around for so many years needs to upgrade in order to best serve customers and take advantage of the latest developments. But he says that Schiphol’s takeover in 2020 has accelerated development. ‘Being part of Schiphol gives us access to the airports state-of-the-art APIs and security systems,’ Jeroen explains. ‘That will save years in the upgrade process, and ensure we stay fully aligned with Schiphol’s ambitions. Like the Smart Cargo Mainport Program, which will allow even more innovation and digital services. PCS will be fully ready to support Schiphol’s ambitions to become Europe’s Smartest Cargo Hub.’

Up and running in 2021

Jeroen is looking forward to the next developments in PCS’s upgrade. By November 2021, the production environment will be complete and all the coding for the system will be done. ‘In January 2022, we’ll migrate our first customers to the new platform, so they can help us optimise it and work out any last issues. Then, by the second quarter of 2022, all of our cargo partners will be migrated to the new PCS. It’s amazing how swiftly all of this can happen, but it’s all due to the support and input we’re getting from the cargo community.’

Adapting with the times

Jeroen recognises that many cargo partners find digitisation a challenge. Whether it’s concerns about security or data privacy, or simple comfort in the status quo, it’s no secret that there’s been some resistance to the idea of a fully digital cargo future. ‘We’re doing everything we can to lower the threshold to adopting digital services,’ Jeroen explains. ‘A digital air waybill is actually more secure than a paper one, since each step in the process only needs access to information relevant to them. And with the new PCS, cargo partners have access to Schiphol’s data, partners and processes, which will make individual innovation easier than ever before.’

Want to know more about Cargonaut and the refreshed PCS platform? Interested in finding out how PCS can streamline and speed up your cargo processing at Schiphol? Contact us today.