ECS Group’s CEO Adrien Thominet reflects on how the company has adapted in the wake of Covid-19 and assesses its ability to provide expertise in all of an airline’s cargo-specific activities.
How would you describe the current state and outlook of the GSA sector?
Our current work primarily involves finding new business opportunities for the airlines we represent in response to the drastic fall in capacity. Without airlines, ECS Group would have no purpose. Our business is closely linked to that of our clients. It’s clear that the GSA sector has been heavily impacted by this pandemic.
As such, we are doing everything we can to mitigate this critical situation and to find new business opportunities, by putting together bespoke operations – whether via charter or PtoF flights – to destinations in their networks and also by creating new routes. The strength of our international network and the synergies we’re capable of, coupled with our client portfolio, are a source of real added value in these extremely uncertain times.
What have been the biggest impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic?
One of the biggest impacts has taken place within the group, in how we manage our human resources, like in many businesses. All the more so at ECS Group, because we have more than 150 offices in over 50 countries. We’ve needed to demonstrate adaptability.
We’ve reorganised our teams and found a balance between remote working and working in the office, all with the constant aim of ensuring the health and wellbeing of our employees and giving them the best possible working conditions.
On the purely business level, agility is another crucial factor. We adapt based on airlines’ available capacity. We adapt to their new requirements, particularly in terms of anticipating market volatility. And we adapt to find them additional business solutions when necessary.
Throughout this entire period, we have also worked to consolidate our digitalisation. The crisis has highlighted the need to have more flexible processes and ways of working, particularly when added value and/or human expertise is not necessary. In the post-Covid age, ways of working will change towards an even more digitalised approach.
Have there been any key learning points?
There are many important lessons we have learned throughout this period that have reaffirmed our way of working and our strategic choices, and all the more so in the face of the lack of visibility that airlines have in an extremely unstable market. These are:
1) The need for close relationships with clients to be able to provide the best possible response to their needs and to enable greater responsiveness and flexibility. That’s how we’ve always worked at ECS Group. It’s simply essential and it’s what is helping us to get through this crisis alongside them.
2) The need to specialise: this is what we do, for example, when we offer new business strategies to our clients (PtoF, charters, co-loading, new routes).
3) The need for constant optimisation, the drive to never rest on our laurels – whether in terms of processes, revenue, digitalisation or logistics solutions.
4) The need to continue to invest, which is extremely important in times of crisis, even though it may seem counter-intuitive. This is what we have done at ECS Group via a process of full and total digitalisation, and it’s a real source of added value.
How has the company adapted to the changing needs of the air cargo industry?
ECS Group has restructured to give its clients what they need: a service offering combining sales, operations, optimisation and decision-making aspects.
Our role as a GSA is our core business, but today ECS Group is able to supplement its offering with a multitude of services and areas of expertise, which complement and/or support traditional services whenever they are required. This is what allows us to adapt to suit all types of client, all types of situation and all types of need. Our clients choose what they need at a given point in time.
In the current situation, our clients need advice and guidance with their decision-making in light of the level of market volatility. Our in-house predictive BI system (Apollo) allows us to offer yield optimisation expertise. This is crucial in the current situation. It is essential for our clients that they optimise their costs, and we enable them to do so by offering them outsourcing solutions: we are capable of carrying out any activities they choose to delegate to us.
What are your thoughts on digitisation and e-booking platforms – have you seen more interest in them?
E-booking platforms are an excellent way to streamline buying/selling processes, making them smoother and more efficient. These platforms will naturally come to occupy a prominent position and we at ECS Group already use their services.
However, they still have limits in terms of their features, which in general are restricted to providing rates and allowing quote requests and bookings to be made for general cargo. This is certainly valuable, and it allows teams in the field to improve both their efficiency and their performance while freeing themselves from certain time-consuming, low value-added tasks. It will be interesting to see what types of features these platforms will move towards over the coming months – what new products and services they will be able to offer to the industry.
What are the advantages of ECS Group’s business model and its global scope?
ECS Group’s business model offers a number of benefits, the first of which is that we have created custom-made solutions across airlines’ entire range of expertise. This means airlines are able to outsource all or part of their activities, safe in the knowledge that these tasks are being managed by an expert.
The second is the ease with which we can generate additional revenue for our clients, with turnkey and tailor-made solutions such as charters and P2F flights. Finally – and this has characterised us since the beginning – our sales strength is a real asset.
We have a dense, strong and powerful network so we can guarantee to our clients that we can sell their capacity anywhere in the world, across all existing routes and those that we create specifically for them.
What differentiates ECS Group from its competitors?
Unquestionably what sets us apart is the diverse and complementary range of services we offer. ECS Group has real expertise in all of an airline’s air cargo-specific activities. Our business lines go beyond our core business as a GSA, and that’s how we ensure we stand out very clearly from our competitors.
Another major and distinctive source of added value is our ability to be a robust partner in terms of decision-making and business strategy: yield optimisation, pricing, cost optimisation, market intelligence, interlines, performance management, penetration of new markets, and more.
We have the capability to manage all operational aspects (QSS, customs, customer service, track and trace, etc.). This is coupled with our outsourcing solutions, which go beyond the traditional GSSA offering, including data capture and mail/e-commerce management solutions, among others.
Finally, we supplement our expertise in all these fields with digital tools that we have developed in-house, including: Apollo (in-house BI system), PathFinder (in-house tracking system) and Quantum (in-house ad-hoc pricing system).
In which areas or markets do you see potential for expansion?
Asia is a market that holds very strong potential for us. Boosted by e-commerce, which is driving a lot of capacity demand, it’s a very interesting market in terms of business opportunities at both the global and the domestic level.