PTI Webinar: COVID-19 could accelerate adoption of electronic Bill of Lading

Containers stacking in the harbor at dusk.

The COVID-19 pandemic could be the final push the maritime industry needs to adopt the electronic Bill of Lading (B/L), according to speakers at Port Technology International’s latest webinar.

Speaking during the webinar, Martin Thijsen, Digital Strategy, Port of Rotterdam, was asked by moderator Wolfgang Lehmacher, from the World Economic Forum Network, when he believed an electronic Bill of Lading would be fully utilised in the supply chain.

Thijsen claimed that the COVID-19 pandemic could mean faster adoption of an electronic Bill of Lading due to the increasing backlog of goods in ports around the world.

“There have been multiple tries but COVID-19 will accelerate it,” Thijsen said. “Right now we see goods cannot be released because the paper bill of lading is not there due to border restrictions and people cannot physically stamp the document.

“The question is ‘how can we make this title transfer legally binding digitally’. That is the discussion we need,” he continued.

The webinar, an examination of the end-to-end supply chain and the real value of port digitalisation, was the latest in PTI’s series of discussions concerning the biggest macro and technologically issues in the maritime industry.

It focused largely on what ports can do to bridge the gap between different supply chain stakeholders and the potential of port community systems, as well as the lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Missed the webinar? Catch up on all the presentations here.

Essentially, port digitalisation means placing the port at the centre of a wider digital ecosystem, where all systems around the world are connected and can communicate with one another.

When done properly, this can increase visibility and help ports and all supply chain stakeholders collaborate and cut waste.

Robert Hambleton, Managing Director, SOCAR Terminal touched upon the importance of leadership in the ‘Changing world of Supply Chain Digitisation’, because the proposed new ecosystem is “significantly more complicated” than the traditional linear model.

The supply chain, essentially, the movement of goods from point to point, is heavily affected by major macro-economic issues, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for greater distribution of wealth.

This makes for complicated decisions, and Hambleton insisted that decision-makers need to be open to change and new ideas if they are going to make the most of the opportunities on offer.

Key to creating a successful environment is including all stakeholders in the process of decision-making. This was a point picked up by Gadi Benmoshe, CIO, Israel Ports Company, who advocated a ‘Working Group’ format that brings everyone from terminal operators, customs officials, freight forwarders, warehouses, exporters and railway operators together.

The idea behind this is to increase communication between the business and government sectors to build mutual beneficial digital solutions.

While that works within a single port setting, Benmoshe emphasised the need for global ports, stakeholders and bodies to work in a similar way in frameworks such as the International Ports Community Systems Association (IPSCA), of which the Israel Ports Company is a member.

This need for a new way of working and thinking is essential if ports are going remain competitive in the world. While they will remain in their traditional role as facilitators of trade, the main asset will switch from hard infrastructure to digital, or soft infrastructure, according to Thijsen.

One of the biggest steps forward will be that ports will have to provide “digital services as an infrastructure” but this is something ports can only do with other ports. To this end, the supply chain needs a “network of smart connected ports”.

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