Speeding up port digitalisation

Fathom World media opportunities

In late October UNCTAD will release its latest Review of Maritime Transport, its annual assessment of the shipping industry.

One aspect of this report will be the review of the development and growth of ports and terminals, particularly the development of their connectivity and automation as digitalisation picks up pace.

In the 2018 Review UNCTAD pointed to certain terminal efficiency gains, although they were not inspiring. Average port time in 2018 was 31.2 hours, compared to 33.6 hours in 2017.

It did however predict that digitalisation will impact ports.

Quoting Drewry Maritime Research it said 36 ports had partly or fully automated systems, but the expectations are, given announcements from services providers that this is set to increase.

Start-up ventures are also joining this sector. Recently Fathom.World reported on the development at the Port of Rotterdam of its own platform, Pronto,  to enhance digital collaboration, notably digital intra-port communication.

Teqplay, also based in Rotterdam, is another company with a software system aimed at terminals, port authorities, shipping lines and agents. It is developing software products linking various actors together offering reporting, performance and time stamps for various port operations.

Linked to this is the development of software solutions, notably blockchain solutions linking shippers and charterers allowing the smooth transitioning of paperwork.

Despite UNCTAD optimism, these developments may however be slow. A 2018 report from Boston Consulting Group alluded to this pace, despite the positive signs.

Port efficiency is about co-coordinating intra-harbour ship movements as well as cargo handling. Photo Courtesy of Port of Gothenburg


One aspect of this increase in digitisation and efficiency is the concept of port-to-port messaging, and intra-port actor messaging to enable smoother vessel operations and reducing turnaround time. As has been reported heavily in Fathom.World, the Port CDM (Collaborative Decision Making) model started within a European funded project but has now been taken up by the International PortCDM Council, formed by the experts behind the European funded project.

Its aim is to see ports take up the idea of using common standards and become more efficient.

Mikael Lind is Associate Professor at RISE, the Research Institutes of Sweden, and part of the Port CDM Council.

He has co-written this final and the previous four implementation notes (see below).

PortCDM he says, is not a tool or a piece of software. “PortCDM…is an international concept providing advice, standards, and guidelines on (the) global level for regional and local implementations,” he said.

“It provides advise to ports and its operators for how to arrange collaborative processes within the port and with external actors and place requirements on systems responding to the needs of the particular context that ports are operating within”

He also said that IPCDMC, which currently consists of about 70 participants,  is committed to further developing the Port CDM concept and the associated standards, here he refers specifically to the establishment of a standard known as S-211 as standard for time stamp data sharing.

“Another essential task is also to respond to the need of specifications for an interface (API) enabling possibilities to provide and consume S-211 in a standardized way,” he says, an important part of ensuring software providers in various ports can allow their clients to communicate effectively.

Digital maturity levels

In terms of gaining the efficiency, the Council has noted seven steps based on the experiences form the initial test beds that started within the EU-funded projects

“We learned a lot of things that has been used to formulate new advise for ports to efficiently adopt the principles of PortCDM in their practice and systems environments,” said Lind, adding that the time taken for a port to reap the benefits will depend on how digitally sophisticated it already is.

“If a Port Community System is already established, the technical implementation of a lower maturity level may be easy to reach. Changing the processes as defined in higher levels may require more work.”

 And this is also why the PortCDM Council welcome the efforts of Pronto and the start-ups like Teqplay and Marine Fields in Cyprus.

This is a call for different providers of services and tools to develop capabilities that respond to the global needs of inter-operability enabling data exchange along the maritime transport chain. PortCDM doesn’t contradict tools, like Rotterdam’s Pronto, or other initiatives, it rather builds an overarching umbrella, under which those products, services and initiative can reach global compliancy for the benefit of the international maritime transport domain.

So with the efforts of IPCDMC, Pronto, Teqplay and Marine Fields as an example of developments, it will be interesting to see how UNCTAD reviews ports developments in late October.

Share post:

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin


Stay On Top Of The Transformation Of The Shipping And Maritime Sectors With Our Weekly Email Newsletter.