New initiatives contribute to the drive for digitization

Ports and the shipping industry are all increasing joining the drive to achieve digitization within the shipping industry. The need to achieve this long-discussed goal was further highlighted as ports and shippers sought to continue uninterrupted operations as COVID-19 spread around the globe.

“The COVID-19 crisis has painfully demonstrated the heterogeneous landscape that currently exists across ports worldwide,” reports a new call to action for digitization from a collation headed by the International Association of Ports and Harbors (IAPH) and leading organizations in the shipping industry. “While some port communities seized the opportunities of the fourth industrial revolution and developed into full-fledged ‘smart’ ports, many others have barely grasped the essentials of digitalization and continue to struggle with a larger reliance on personal interaction and paper-based transactions as the norms for shipboard, ship-port interface and port-hinterland based exchanges .”

Calling for wide-ranging adoption of secure electronic data exchange, the collation reported that currently only 49 of the 174 member states of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) possess functioning port community systems.

This call to action is just one of the recently announced steps from different parts of the shipping industry all aimed at advancing digitization. For example, global terminal operator DP World recently completed the early stages of integration with TradeLens, a blockchain-based digital container logistics platform. Additionally, China Merchants Port Group, Alibaba Group, and Ant Financial Group also announced a new strategic cooperation to develop a smart port technology to create a unified platform that will allow buyers and sellers of goods to integrate with logistic companies, banks, customs, and other officials to conduct contactless digital export and import transactions.

“One of the major outcomes of the last eight weeks of intensive work of the WPSP Covid19 Task Force is the very urgent need for ports to digitalize processes and data exchanges as we move towards a post-COVID19 modus operandi” commented IAPH Managing Director Patrick Verhoeven. “ Exchanging paper by hand and relying on person-to-person interaction simply doesn’t cut the mustard anymore, neither from a safety nor efficiency standpoint.”

The call to action defined a set of nine priorities to advance digitization. This includes finding ways of using existing requirements to support electronic transmission, receipt, and response of information for all port community-related transactions, making the transition to full-fledged single window systems. They are also calling for efforts including: harmonize data standards; introducing port community systems and secure data exchange platforms in IMO Member State ports; reviewing and adding to IMO’s guidance; promoting best on applying emerging technologies; and increase health security in port environments.

The report calls for establishing a coalition of stakeholders and believes through that a practical roadmap to digitalization can be developed.

At the same time, the Digital Container Shipping Association (DCSA), a non-profit group established to further digitalization of container shipping technology standards, took another step in its efforts by publishing IoT connectivity interface standards for shipping containers. The DCSA IoT Standard for Gateway Connectivity Interfaces includes radio standards for gateways on vessels, land, at event locations, and in handheld devices.

According to the DCSA, with these standards, carriers and supply chain participants will be one step closer to providing customers with an uninterrupted flow of relevant information regarding the whereabouts of containers and their contents at any point along the container journey. Vessel operators and owners as well as ports, terminals, container yards, inland logistics providers, and other third parties will be able to use the standards to ensure interoperability between smart container solutions at the radio interface level.

The new standards are the first of three planned IoT standards releases addressing the connectivity requirements for reefer and dry containers, as well as the RFID registration of these containers.

International Association of Ports and Harbors report concludes: “Working on these priorities requires collaboration between maritime supply chain industry stakeholders and government. Above all, it calls for inter-governmental collaboration as the acceleration of digitalization will require change management at local, regional, and national levels. National trade facilitation committees implemented under the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement could be an excellent instrument for member states and port authorities to drive the change.”

The IAPH reported that its policy document will now be submitted to the IMO Secretariat in London as a proposal for further dissemination.

This range of efforts all shares one common goal of achieving digitization at all phases of the shipping process.