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Ready or not, AI as augmenter, disruptor of container shipping is coming

Global ocean shipping e-commerce portal, information and service provider INTTRA is once again at the forefront of the digitisation wave, putting up a white paper highlighting the effects it will have on the industry.

“Digitalization is impacting every industry and ocean container shipping is no different,” the authors of the paper, president and coo Inna Kuznetsova, cto Peter Spellman and interim head of product management Karim Jumma, asserted.

They further suggested that as the latest trends drive organizations to focus on smart, technology-driven management to reduce expenses and increase efficiency, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), as well as the Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain have become the most talked about transformative and disruptive technologies.

“Over the long term, these technologies will massively improve our ability to deliver goods and services, as they’re applied to every step of shipping, from land-side to terminals to ocean,” the white paper predicted.

Assist rather than replace humans

Allaying fears of wide scale replacement of humans, the authors emphasised however that “while AI has the potential to massively disrupt the container shipping industry, today’s applications will assist in jobs rather than replace jobs”, as the weaknesses still present in AI programs mean humans will remain a critical part of AI implementations as they will be required to handle “exceptions and higher-end tasks, ones that require creative and original thinking, as well as ones requiring leadership roles”.

INTTRA also highlighted various figures such as a McKinsey Global Institute estimate that up to 800m global workers could lose their jobs by 2030 due to automation, as well as another estimate from Gartner that AI will automate 1.8m people out of work by as soon as 2020, but will also create 2.3m new jobs.

This is particularly pertinent for the container shipping industry, INTTRA noted, as despite the belief in IT that anything that can be standardized can be automated, one of the challenges in container shipping is the high number of exceptions. “AI will allow workers to focus more of their time on those exceptions,” the white paper suggested.

Looking ahead to practical applications of AI in the relatively near future, INTTRA suggested: “One very real, near-term initiative that incorporates AI are chatbots using NLP, or Natural Language Processing.”

Cloud solutions with chatbots

In this respect, INTTRA is exploring enhancing its cloud solutions with chatbots to further enhance customer experience. INTTRA believes they will not replace human workers, but rather give users a more efficient way to interact through chat for support before talking to a human.

Chatbots represent the early face of AI and will impact all areas where there is communication between humans, INTTRA predicted, further suggesting that ‘the growth in chatbots across all industries will be explosive”.

Supporting its assertion, INTTRA cited Gartner figures showing that by 2021, more than 50% of enterprises will be spending more per year on bots and chatbot creations than traditional mobile app developments.

Further applications of AI include configuring forecasts with an automated, conversational interface, INTTRA said. For example, by looking at a customer’s previous bookings, an AI app would enable booking parameters to be automatically pre-filled using machine learning of past behaviour. This will then allow organizations to improve the booking process while freeing support staff to focus on higher tasks. 

In the future, AI will increasingly help with other critical tasks while working in conjunction with humans, INTTRA foresaw. One area it suggests this application could be especially useful is with Harmonized System (HS) codes, the international product classification standard. Errors in the HS code are not uncommon and can cause significant delays and increase costs. Automation will be able to correct many of these errors upfront by assigning the proper HS codes, only involving humans on exceptions that cannot be easily resolved.

Smart containers


Another area AI will help is with smart containers, INTTRA said. AI and IoT will allow refrigerated containers, or reefers, to be monitored and handled remotely, increasing and decreasing temperature and air flow as required by changing conditions. The AI-enabled system will only involve humans for exceptions.

“It is an exciting time to be a technology platform in logistics,” INTTRA reiterated. It suggested that automation will become increasingly important as the advantages of digitalization are realized and recommended several steps industry players can take to prepare.

This included deciding whether they have the core competencies to embark on AI projects or if they are better off working through a partner, learning how applicable an AI project is to operations and looking at specific efficiency and cost-benefit gains rather than adopting wholesale software solutions.

“At INTTRA we are investing in technologies such as AI to extend our network and to work collaboratively to set standards that lead the industry forward,” the white paper’s authors noted.

“INTTRA’s unique position enables the company to see data across the industry through interactions with carriers, freight forwarders, customers, partners and agents, as well as the addition of new user categories, including ports and Chinese booking agents over the past year; This visibility enables INTTRA to use technology to take cost out of the industry (and) AI is a natural extension,” they explained.

As the largest neutral digital transaction network in the ocean container shipping industry, more than 800,000 container orders are initiated over INTTRA’s platform weekly through more than 60 carriers. The company manages over one quarter of global container volume, with additional visibility into nearly 40% of global container trade.

“We’ve all talked about digitalization and what it enables, including AI, but now it comes down to execution,” INTTRA concluded.

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