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Digital technologies are enabling better collaboration in shipping!

By Mikael Lind (Research institutes of Sweden (RISE) and International PortCDM Council (IPCDMC)) and André Simha (MSC (Mediterranean Shipping Company SA) and Digital Container Shipping Association (DCSA))


Never has the desire for collaboration in the shipping industry been as strong as it is today.


Based on our combined experiences of bringing digitalization and innovations to the maritime and other industries, we can see that the attitude towards collaboration and data sharing has changed dramatically over the last few years. The traditional reluctance or inability to share information across the maritime transportation chain is becoming history.


The emerging amount of digitally twinned devices and accessibility to multiple data streams is enabling possibilities for big data analytics and machine learning. The adoption of IOT (Internet of Things) technology for such things as smart containers, and capturing agreements and outcomes from systems of production in systems of records are additional enablers for digital collaboration. The actors are starting to realize the opportunities and benefits of enhanced situational awareness within the maritime supply chain resulting from the utilization of these data sharing possibilities. They start to understand that all those taking part in this paradigm shift will increase their ability to plan and use resources much more efficiently and effectively. And this will result in efficiencies and better outcomes on both the macro and micro levels – in other words benefits for individual actors as well as better performance for the marine transportation chain as a whole.


Maritime is catching up with other transport sectors

Unlike the world’s air transport sector, which has for many years been gaining substantial benefits from collaboration, sea transport has so far tended to operate in the context of a self-organized ecosystem, where each actor acts to a large degree independently whenever they can, often taking decisions that benefit them, with less thought on how those decisions might affect others. This outlook may well stem from the legacy of the Mare Liberum (The Freedom of the Seas) first declared in 1609 by the Dutch jurist and philosopher Grotius, who formulated the principle that the sea was international territory and that all nations were free to use it for seafaring trade. In such an environment where every nation is free to travel to every other nation, and to trade with it, this can easily lead to an attitude of “every man for himself” and as such doesn’t really encourage collaboration.


But as we have witnessed during recent years, there have been changes in the way that maritime operations are taking place. Authorities and fleet operation centers ashore now monitor and advise the captain about various aspects of sea-based operations – for better safety, efficiency and environmental protection. This ranges from monitoring and advising on traffic to watching the performance of onboard machinery. The latest example of monitoring and advice concerns the intensified debate on how to reduce the carbon footprint of ships through enhanced interactions on what happens at sea and what happens when a ship gets to port.


Data sharing enables collaboration

Already today there are instances where shipping companies keep track of digital time stamps for port visits which can then be used for analysis of port and terminal performance throughout the world. There are ports that are adopting the concept of Port Collaborative Decision Making (PortCDM) to bring together all port actors and the ships and to share relevant data for the mutual benefit of all. This is also being extended to Port-to-Port data sharing enhancing the planning horizons for downstream ports which leads to improvements not only for the participating ships and individual port, but also for the maritime ecosystem from a holistic point of view. For some purposes, collaborative data sharing environments are also bringing new block chain applications into the equation, such as block chain approaches for bills of lading.


In order to respond to the agenda for enhanced safety, efficiency, and the desire to preserve the natural environment, collaboration and data sharing within and between organizations is an important element in moving forward. It is all about coordination and the synchronization of the various different activities that all contribute to maritime transportation. This is all enabled by data sharing, building upon agreed standards, providing the ability for all those with authorized access to obtain a clear understanding of the status of various activities in the transportation chain - both as planned events and in their actual execution. This then allows them to better plan and anticipate how their contribution and resources will be used most effectively, both from a micro as well as a macro viewpoint.


This has the consequence that the actors in the self-organized ecosystem that is shipping now have a significant and mutually beneficial possibility to harvest the opportunities of integrating their operations with others.


We are seeing more and more examples, such as shipping companies talking to each other, ports starting to coordinate with up- and downstream ports as well as shore centers becoming more integrated with port and ship operations. Hinterland operations are also getting more closely associated and coordinated in how their operations fit together with the ports. In a society where everything is now driven towards just-in-time, resource efficiency, and enhanced environmental concerns, nothing is going to be better than the weakest link, which, without these changes, is all too often the case in the maritime sector.


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Digital technologies are enabling better collaboration in shipping!

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