Monday, 13 July 2020

Container lines and ports can benefit from digital collaboration

Ports, terminal operators and container ship owners working together to deploy blockchain systems would improve transparency, security and supply chains

Their combined efforts adopting blockchain, internet-of-things (IoT) technology and artificial intelligence (AI) would streamline international container transportation.

This was the suggestion by Digital Container Shipping Association chief operating officer Henning Schleyerbach at the Dubai Maritime Agenda conference in Dubai.

“We should find ways to join forces between shipping liners and ports at a global scale,” he said. “Then, we can take the new technology forward.”

Mr Schleyerbach was discussing the benefits of AI and blockchain technologies for maritime trade with port and terminal operators and digital systems facilitators.

He thinks initial technology collaboration should include electronic documentation, trade and e-procurement for almost paperless transactions through blockchain. “It is about a global alliance for technology adoption,” he said.

Developing IoT technology for smart container and ship monitoring should also be considered throughout the container shipping sector to reduce the sector’s environmental footprint and improve client requirements.

“Sustainability technology will help make shipping greener,” said Mr Schleyerbach. “AI can provide insight with remote monitoring at fleet operating centres.” He thinks these technologies and IoT will be installed on container ships in the long-term future.

Because container cargo owners will “expect monitoring technology inside containers... shipowners will need to have technology on board to deliver this” said Mr Schleyerbach.

DP World chief technology officer Mike Bhaskaran said e-trading platforms can enable collaboration across the whole container supply chain.

“It is complicated to go to real-time trade. But, blockchain is an example of how it improves supply side finance,” said Mr Bhaskaran. This is particularly important as banks need to release funds as containers are delivered to terminals.

“We need to collaborate with banks, find common ground and develop this technology.”

Blockchain needs to be available to shipping and port operators, but remain secure from outside influences. “We want to make it easy access to shipping companies and make data transfers happen,” said Mr Bhaskaran.

“However, security is important. Blockchain provides the ability to encrypt data in e-commerce. We are always looking for better ways to trade and blockchain can do that. For blockchain to be deployed, shipping needs to trust in the system.”

Port of Rotterdam head of digital strategy and transformation Martijn Thijsen agreed that security would be a top priority for blockchain implementation. “It is about the ecosystem being ahead of hackers and for that we rely on the software providers,” he said.

Mr Thijsen thinks trialling blockchain under a joint industry collaboration would ensure the technology is secure and effective.

“Key to this is co-operating with partners to test blockchain in a sandbox [virtual testing platform]. We are talking with partners and to bring in operators,” said Mr Thijsen. “We need to be open and collaborate in business. We need to share data as data can be valuable when processed.”

This implies Port of Rotterdam would be willing to collaborate with operators, such as through an industry organisation, perhaps Digital Container Shipping Association.

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