Comment: Smart ports give shipping a boost

Pieter Zylstra, regional director, digital transformation, MEA at Orange Business Services, looks at the future of shipping.
Pieter Zylstra, regional director, digital transformation, MEA at Orange Business Services.
Pieter Zylstra, regional director, digital transformation, MEA at Orange Business Services.


Maritime has always been one of the main pillars of global transport networks.

Today, the shipping industry transports around 85 percent of international trade by tonnage, according to the WTO. Ships have been transforming digitally for some time, becoming nodes on shipping company networks while out at sea.

According to the World Economic Forum, a reduction of barriers in the global supply chain could increase international commerce by 15%.

Worldwide ports are increasing their digitization efforts to become smarter such as in the Middle East and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where Abu Dhabi Ports chief executive Captain Mohamed Juma Al Shamisi commented recently that vessel operators, shipyards and builders must “take advantage of technology growth and spend money on research and development to start the process of digitalization.”

According to Gartner, the shipping and logistics industry is set to evolve towards a completely digitized future. “We expect that artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, corporate social responsibility, and cost-to-serve analytics will all drive significant shifts in supply chain strategies within the next decade,” said Gartner Research VP Noha Tohamy.

Digital transforming port operations

Following the launch of new global blockchain initiatives earlier this year by large shipping companies like Maersk, data synchronization between the maritime ecosystem partners across the value chain is becoming critical. All parties in a digital transaction, including sellers, buyers of cargo, customs and port authorities can share a database which is home to a secure distributed ledger running a blockchain protocol. Blockchain offers a new, more secure transaction host. At the same time, when seeking to add ships with cargo worth millions of dollars to a corporate network, cybersecurity must run through everything and be a priority, not an afterthought. IBM’s Cyber Security Intelligence Index ranked transportation as the fifth most cyber-attacked industry in 2016, but just 43 percent of crew are aware of cyber safe policies provided by their company and according to Futurenautics, only 12 percent received any cyber security training.

Orange Business Services has been involved in making ports smarter by providing various digital automation and integration solutions. A good case has been the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA), where Orange has been involved as a solution partner for over a decade now. Gerald Lee, Head of Transportation at Orange Business Services AsiaPac, comments: “In Singapore, we are seeing the development of the world’s first mega port, a fully autonomous smart port of unprecedented size and scale. Ports have been evolving fast recently, with governments and maritime companies now investing similar money that in the past decade went into technology in airports, on trains and so on. Companies are asking how they can digitize port operations to their benefit, and how can they transform very traditional ways of working using digital technology. Cybersecurity however plays a fundamental role in all these developments.”

Maritime playing roles in big projects

Throughout the MENA region, maritime is taking its place in large-scale infrastructure and economic projects. In Saudi Arabia, as part of the kingdom’s Saudi Vision 2030 initiative, plans have been approved to develop the port at Jeddah, a strategically important location on the Red Sea that forms part of the most important route between Europe and the Far East. Digital technologies will be central to the port’s transformation and growth.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is trialing autonomous ships with a view to improving safety and lowering operating costs by 2019. Harbor tugs are first on the list to be attempted, meaning the prospect of autonomous tugs towing and maneuvering autonomous container ships within ports.

Digital Maritime Use cases increasing

One of the most exciting digital port developments has been taking place in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, where the port’s 42-kilometer site digital infrastructure enables connected ships. The port will implement IoT technologies and use AI and cloud to drive efficiencies and operational transformation. Tools to be deployed will include centralized dashboards that collect real time water, weather and communications data, analyze it and process it into real time, useful data that ships and port operators can use to their advantage.

Similarly the port of Antwerp is leveraging real-time data to drive operational improvement by using NxtPort, an information-sharing platform. Antwerp’s goal is to become a self-sustaining data-commercialization organization that gathers, stores, analyses and exchanges data with all kinds of parties within its logistics operation.

The port of Kalmar in Sweden is transforming how it handles cargo using digital. As part of its 2060 Vision project, Kalmar is planning on moving goods around in smart containers that know their contents and destinations, and also deploying drones for continuous predictive maintenance. Kalmar’s aim is to combine AI and human experience and knowledge to create a fully automated port in time.

“Making ports and shipping smarter is our goal, using digital technology, and that includes everything from CRM and HR processes through to terminal operations, cranes, asset management and so on,” states Lee. “To make ports smarter, all this data must be available to everyone and an easy exchange of data must be enabled. API Hubs will become critical for the digital maritime supply chain. This requires the right infrastructure, a digital communications system, using autonomous vehicles and drones for inspection of cranes that are nine storeys high and intelligent industrial video analytics for example. Everything needs to be connected. A smart port will have all the devices, data, and perhaps most importantly, people, connected using digital technology. It is an exciting time for the industry.”

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