Recently, we spoke with Piet Opstale (Innovation Lead at Port of Antwerp) about the importance of smart ports to develop the maritime supply chain.
He noted that, "... the overall supply chain process has not been optimised. There are still a lot of improvements which can be made to capacity and efficiency, and we will be using technology to close that gap.”
A fundamental piece of business intelligence which will enable this optimisation is data. And as different touchpoints across the supply chain become more transparent and share their data, standardisation will be an important part of this equation to achieving an interoperable, streamlined supply chain.
Watch/ read the interview below.
Q: Any roadmap to standardisation should aid in reaching consensus about standards required to satisfy the set of needs – where do we start? Who takes ownership?
Matthew Wittemeier: Realistically, a roadmap is talking about the future, and we are well into the journey towards standardisation across a broad range of initiatives; TIC 4.0, The Open Shipping Standard, the DCSA, they are all developing standards.
These are largely grassroot initiatives and I don’t think the question is as much focussed on who starts it, but rather a question of how do we consolidate these standards where it makes sense so we are meeting the first level of data standardisation which is a competent framework to define what an individual point of data is, so we are no independently developing two or three of them in these different standards.
Secondly, how do we adopt those into the whole international stage. Right now, those standards are largely happening in certain regional areas and not so much on the international level. If we take that question and we take it a step further, we must ask some questions about the ability standards to be adopted.
So, in Europe where ports are technologically quite advanced, it becomes significantly easier to adopt these standards, whereas we move into Africa, the Middle East, and India which are not as technologically capable, or the funding is not there yet.
These are going to be really challenging questions.
Ultimately, I believe there needs to be an international body what eventually takes ownership of this, but right now it needs to stay in the grass roots as we need to maintain the momentum.
Q: How does the shipping industry move forwards to achieve this goal of data standardisation?
MW: I think that broad working groups of interest parties are the best way to go. And there are multiple industry standards, from telecoms to aviation, where we can see examples of large bodies of competitors and interested third party individuals who come together to create those standards.
This will lead to effective standards which we can adopt.
Q: What are the biggest factors to achieving real-time virtualisation for just in time shipping?
MW: Trust is probably the single largest factor. Collaboration flows on from trust – if you can trust sharing data into my system, and me sharing data into your system, that we are not going to use that in the wrong way. This will definitely be the first step.
The second step will involve implementing systems that have been developed, to leverage that data. There is a range of software solutions that can help you leverage your data and turn that data into insights without technology - and that’s important.
All this standardisation is really focussed on technology but without technology achieving the sort of precision that we need to make just in time shipping a reality, is not going to happen.
There are far too many moving parts for a planner in each individual port to be able to connect all of those dots as it is the technology that underpins it.
So, trust in each other, and trust in technology.
Q: How important is logistics connectivity and intelligence in achieving this?
MW: I think the best way to answer that question is to give an example from a parallel industry – aviation in this case, which is my background.
If you look at airport collaborative decision making, which is the aviation industries equivalent of just in time shipping. It’s about aircraft coming in when they need to, getting a bay, being assigned a gate. Departing when they need to, having a slot available on the runway to be able to take-off and when they come into their destination, they have a slot in the landing sequence.
When that standard was first implemented by EUROCONTROL across 4 – 5 airports, whilst there was benefit for the airports, there wasn’t benefits for the network.
As that expanded to include dozens of airports across Europe, now the benefits for the network as a whole are being seen. There is a significant improvement in the utilisation of runway space, parking bays, and gates available to aircraft. There are very specific benefits from an environmental perspective was we don’t have aircraft circling at their destination airport.
When you think about the network as a whole, we need to get to a certain degree of saturation. In the shipping industry, I cannot say whether that will be 5 ports or 20 ports, but there will be a point in the proliferation of that technology where we will see the significant returns across the network.
Q: Regulation is handled domestically, how do we decide on a common language for data and information sharing?
MW: I don’t think that anyone can argue that data doesn’t drive business efficiency or competitive advantage. If we look at the Amazons or AliBabas of the world, they are excelling above traditional brick and mortar shops because they have a very technology and data first approach to business. This has proliferated with artificial intelligence and machine learning further exasperating those products and services.
What I think that we need to look at as an industry is that data sharing is what is going to be propelling the industry forward and allow it to continue to drive efficiency and remain competitive.
At Smart Ports Summit, we have heard a lot about space becoming an issue over the next 5 – 10 years. The combination of Data and efficiency is how we first address those issues. Building additional birthing capacity is expensive and investing in technology that allows you to use that existing infrastructure is relatively inexpensive by comparison.
It’s data that drives that. The ability to share data and leverage the insights so that data can gleam.
Q: Last year, at Smart Ports Summit you presented a future look at ports and terminals in 2038. What has changed? How have your predictions fared?
MW: The biggest change I have is that I have some time! I’m busy writing a book.
I think everyone sets out, or thinks of, writing a book but I can tell you that it is extremely time consuming!
We got a lot of our initial predictions right, in the first part there was a conversation around shippers looking for a way across the Arctic passage. We predicted the ice would melt and the ice would open up, but we’ve seen shipping starting to look for an Arctic passage route.
We’ve also seen some early trepidation around data and data exchange. At last year’s conference there was a number of conversations around the hesitation of sharing data. I was at a tech summit in Hamburg a few months later and there was a conversation about the monetisation of data and how that is the route forward, but I have already talked about how that is the wrong approach.
Hopefully we are wrong about the predictions of data wars, and I really hope we are but so far it appears we are heading in that direction.
Some of the broader predictions around goods are produced and we are starting to see some predictions around 3D printing dramatically changing commerce as we see it today.
There are some great examples in other sectors. Adidas has released their first 3D printed shoes. We’re likely to see make-up manufacturers investing into augmented reality and bespoke, niche products that are used at the end site or point-of-purchase.
These are dramatically going to change the way in which good travel around the world.
In maritime, I had luck of visiting the Port of Rotterdam’s innovation centre last year, and they have 4 – 5 3D printing start-ups. One of these is focussing on 3D printing metals and their scale-up business case was around 3D printing parts for ships that come into harbour, so you don’t have to store spare parts for vessels.
If a ship comes in and it has a broken propeller or something else, the replacement part could the 3D printed in the time it takes for the vessel to be unloaded and reloaded. The technologies we have been talking about are here, and they are genuinely promising to refine our industry.
Q: What makes an event like Smart Ports Summit invaluable to the industry?
MW: (Events like this) are microcosms of collaboration. A lot of the people in the room are my competitor’s whist we’re doing business, yet we are all sitting down and sharing ideas.
If there was a blueprint for collaboration, that’s the first step.