Ports are one of the nodes in the global network providing a key link between sea and land and the connection with the hinterland. This puts the port in a good position to be a neutral platform to act as a supply chain co-ordinator, making use of its assets and knowledge of the markets and hinterland, by providing onward connections for port users.
The reality is that an ecosystem of global port platforms will emerge, and the emphasis should be on co-creating and co-operating to see where there is mutual benefit while moving away from the traditional paradigm of proprietary information and systems.
So how close are we to creating this global network of digitalised ports and compared to other industries how advanced is the shipping sector?
“All around the world and in every industry, there has always been a pursuit to make processes internally and externally more efficient and connected. The current state of technology is currently focused on faster connections to the internet, development of the cloud and connections to sensors and smart devices. This enables this digitalisation pursuit in a manner never experienced before,” said Jan Waas, Chief Information Officer for Hutchison Ports.
Digitalisation development ‘kick started’ years ago in the consumer sector, with digitalisation of music and television. In the B2C market major brands consolidated quickly, so consumers are now using a limited number of platforms provided by the well-known brands.
In the B2B market, container logistics has traditionally been slower, less co-ordinated and invested than the B2C sector. In the short term there are different platforms in development by individual companies which will have their own focus, timing and business needs.
It is unlikely that one platform will cover all or even half of all functions in container logistics; it is more likely there will be different platforms in the market supporting and overlapping to fulfil different functions. Seamless platform-to-platform communications need to be established to avoid additional manual transactions and duplication of processes.
“The current focus in the container shipping industry towards standardisation of data format and protocols (like authentication, identification, authorisation, APIs) is essential for the industry to provide integrated solutions. The goal of establishing new platforms must be to replace legacy working process. If the new platforms run in parallel with existing channels then the legacy communications tools of paper, e-mail, phone and EDI exchange will remain, cancelling out real efficiencies in the logistics chain”, said Waas.
Sharing this vision is Martijn Thijsen, who leads digital strategy, transformation and business development for Port of Rotterdam. He sees a more incremental development with ports and users leveraging existing applications.
“We need to align ports on standardisation and interoperability, making use of old standards and data points, such as application programming interfaces, which are based on current applications that work now, such as software as a service as well as new technologies that may emerge such as blockchain,” he said.
Port of Rotterdam launched Pronto last year, with an aim to make each port call like a motor racing Formula 1 pit stop.
“Pronto allows for all services to be pre-arranged before a ship calls at its next port, it provides real-time information about weather conditions, local tidal information, berthing availability, on-dock equipment allocation to ensure optimal arrival time and berthing,” said Thijsen.
With the idea of a shared global digital platform, it provides shipping companies, agents, terminals and other service providers to exchange information about their port calls. As soon as a ship’s Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA) is known, the vessel is assigned its own timeline. The timeline displays all events and activities during the port call: from the vessel’s arrival and stay in the port to its departure from the port.
It combines public data, data retrieved directly from participating companies and forecasts from artificial intelligence (AI) applications to generate extremely accurate information about a port call.
Users can easily filter the available data on their own dashboards and zoom in on the timeline of an individual port call. They can use this information to access and plan the activities related to a port call in real-time much more efficient than in the past.
The progress and status of the events is continuously updated on the dashboard and users can monitor the status and adjust it whenever necessary. Alerts and notifications will prompt to users if there are status changes, delays or planning conflicts.
All activities related to a port call can be pre-planned, implemented and monitored in the most efficient way possible in real time. This benefits all the parties concerned.
In terms of the big picture the main drivers are to be an early adopter to capture the benefits of advances in technology and a more practical reason to meet customer demand for more efficiency.
“DIGITALISATION IN THE FUTURE CREATES AN ADVANTAGE FOR PORT OPERATORS, PROVIDING THE CAPABILITY TO PROCESS DATA IN REAL TIME AND CREATE FULL TRANSPARENCY TO THE USERS OF THE PORT,” SAID WAAS.
The idea of this new ecosystem for the shipping industry may take some time to develop but it will be the key to enhancing global trade connectivity and port efficiency.