The maritime industry is set to enter an accelerated phase of innovation as its biggest stakeholders recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, but national governments must help if ports and terminals are going to see the benefits.
During the final day of the Container Terminal Automation Conference 2021 (CTAC), Dr Eva Savelsberg, Senior Vice President and Board Member, Inform, said the industry’s innovation journey has only just begun and that it has “a decade of automation ahead” based on “data sharing tools” such as machine learning.
“It is not a case of if there will be automation, the question is now how we can share data,” Savelsberg said, reiterating the claim she made during Inform’s keynote at CTAC that the next big focus for supply chain innovation should be in the hinterland and inland terminals.
Meanwhile, Nawaf Abdulla, CEO, DP World Limassol, said that the time since the outbreak of the pandemic had been “a challenge” for ports, terminals and the supply chain.
However, it has also brought “opportunities to come up with new solutions to problems” and emphasised how every part of the supply chain needs to be kept active “in all circumstances”.
Ian James, COO, Yilport Holding, pointed out that the industry does collaborate but only in areas “aren’t really competitive”, such as in how to cut carbon emissions and that the major players need to put competitiveness aside for the common good.
“In areas where data sharing affects our businesses, it becomes very siloed,” James said and warned that if ports do not work together they will be left behind by third parties, who will collaborate amongst themselves and leave the maritime stakeholders at a disadvantage.
Savelsberg said authorities need to “give a little push” to help ports and terminals innovate, saying governments also have an interest in helping parts of the supply chain share data and automate processes.
Blockchain is one of the technologies that some industry experts have suggested will become more popular due to the pandemic, particularly with the need for electronic Bills of Lading (e-B/Ls).
“Governments have an important role, they have to support the start of developments and help ports and terminals,” she said.
James pointed to Singapore as a leading example of how a national government can help its private sector and major infrastructure stakeholders to innovate with smart technologies, saying the port authority “drives initiatives on data transparency” and has “taken the lead in ensuring trade keeps flowing”.
Abdulla broadly agreed and said governments need to “reinforce things” and that the ability to collaborate across borders is already there, it just needs the will.
He said the EU’s 27 nations already have shared standards on issues such as climate change and that “the same could be done for blockchain”.
“All players need to have access to ensure the strength of the supply chain. It isn’t just up to the private operators, governments can play a big role”.
“We all know there are values and benefits to data sharing globally,” Abdulla said, citing blockchain as a technology which could help the industry collaborate.
But there remain issues around how much information can be shared between stakeholders and which of the many possible platforms is easiest to use.
Abdulla called for the maritime industry to take lessons from the aviation industry, which has platforms for the seamless transfer of customer cross-border information.