During the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been much discussion about how digitisation has been critical to keep supply chains moving and enable the continued smooth operations of transportation networks, shipping and ports.
The realisation is that digitisation of shipping and logistics networks, has been vital in moving food, medical supplies and energy around the world. Companies that have not embarked on their digital journey, have realised during the pandemic that the analogue world and paper-based transactions are no longer a long-term option.
Reducing the risk inherent in physical paper-based transactions and human-to-human contact are now an imperative to fighting the pandemic.
The transition to digitisation is moving at different speeds across the business world, at Hutchison Ports the company has been integrating new technology to its smart network strategy into its operations and business processes via standardisation, automation and digitalisation.
In an interview, Hutchison Ports Group Chief Financial Officer, Ruth Tsim said, “The application of the latest technologies in our operations has been the cornerstone of our success. We are committed to investing in digitisation across our network, such as AI and other technological solutions to enhance our terminal operations. We have introduced the use of remote-controlled equipment, autonomous trucking and the proof-of-concept for blockchain solutions, where we are working with a number of companies across the supply chain.”
“As you will appreciate, we are in the volume business and we look into big data for a wide spectrum of our business decisions including investments and operations. For example, our proprietary operating system – nGen collects the data of the containers and ships coming to our facility, puts together plans using algorithms and AI for the optimal and most productive use of our terminal. These plans will then be used in the execution of our shipside and landside operations.”
By practicing the smart network strategy to its terminal operation, Hutchison Ports has established a code of processes and best practices that seamlessly unifies its network.
Kris Kosmala, Ambassador for Connected Ports said: “If anybody ever wished to validate value of their digital transformation, the pandemic provided a perfect set up. Chaotic transition from “normal” to “somewhat abnormal” to “new normal” in a space of days provided ample of opportunity to see what can be done with pure digital means, as opposed to counting on people trudging to the offices and performing their daily tasks from behind their desks.”
According to Kosmala a well-executed digital transformation should have produced seamless transition from people-to-people mode to a people-to-machine mode the day when the employees were ordered to stay at home because of lockdown in many countries. The worldwide web portal of your business should have instantaneously become the primary way of transacting and communicating with your customers.
“If it took your staff days or weeks to evacuate their office equipment to their homes and switch their customer-oriented work to all means digital, I am sorry to say that you misspent your digital transformation budget.”
“If your electronic portal was unable to answer customer queries and enable quote-to-cash process execution entirely through use of AI sales rep bots, specific recommendations provided by an AI-powered engine, optimisation-generated execution scenarios for customer to opt for or out, automated workflows to carry out checks, verifications, execution, complaints, and audits, then yes, you guessed it. You misspent your digital transformation budget,” said Kosmala.
The benefits of a digital future are no fax machines, no frantic phone calls and flipping through endless screens, running through documentation binders, or sharing screenshots of shipping advices, contracts, receiving slips, authorisations, certificates, price lists, purchase orders and invoices.
Never has the future investment development of digital networks been more essential. Port communities are well positioned to digitally interact with vessels to ensure optimal berthing, loading and unloading, paper-based transactions can be eliminated, shared data between ports will improve vessel arrival and departure efficiency.
Many recently developed ports have introduced digitisation to their operations, without having to convert from traditional analogue processes. Having digitisation integrated into operations has provided new terminals with the advantage of introducing remote and automated equipment from day one. Ports are also increasingly utilising AI and big data to analyse terminal traffic to optimise and maximise terminal productivity.
Paperless operations are now migrating to digital cloud platforms to enable processes such as online goods registration, invoice, payment, pickup point through QR code notification. All processes are centralised to a unified platform allowing quick and easy access with greater efficiency and flexibility. The interconnected
digitalised terminal operation is becoming the new norm in port operations.
Another benefit of digitisation is it can reduce human interaction in the yard to improve staff safety and reduce information errors; while reducing human contact can also reduce the risks of spreading viruses such as COVID-19.
To learn more about the advantages of digital ports, please refer to issue 7 ‘Digital ports to create new shipping ecosystem.’
The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) is driving digital connectivity in the shipping sector through a program to ensure easy adoption of new technology and digitisation to drive through standardisation.
On June 5th, 2020, IMO issued a Call to Action to its Member States, the UN, and associated organisations. It has requested governments and industry stakeholders to collaborate and co-ordinate their efforts to digitise the maritime industry and associated logistics operations.
“Cooperation between shipping, ports and logistics will be vital for enhancing the efficiency and sustainability of shipping and therefore facilitating trade and fostering economic recovery and prosperity,” said Kitack Lim, IMO Secretary-General on a webinar on Digital Connectivity and Data Standards.
He highlighted IMO’s key role in ensuring shipping can embrace the digital revolution – while ensuring safety, environmental protection as well as cyber security. “Digitalisation and new technologies will also be the key to allowing standardisation and therefore enhancing the efficiency of shipping,” Mr. Lim said.
One of the key areas is to create a single mandatory maritime window, so that all data for arrival and departure of ships is submitted through a single point and transmitted to the relevant agencies involved.
The IMO Compendium on Facilitation and Electronic Business, is a tool for software
developers to harmonises the data elements required for regulatory purposes during a port call and standardises electronic messages, reducing the administrative burden for ships linked to formalities in ports.
The goal is to make it easier for companies involved in maritime trade or transport to create software that can communicate, no matter which standard they are based on.
2020 will be remembered primarily for the global pandemic, which has had tragic consequences around the world. It will also be remembered as the year when governments, businesses and the public realised the critical importance of digitisation and connectivity. There will be no going back to the old ways of doing business and further development of AI and the Internet of Things will accelerate the pace of change towards a fully digital world.