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Digitalisation paves the way for future global port eco-system

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Global ports need to ready themselves to further collaborate on establishing an eco-system of interoperability with increased use of digitalisation as the world moves into a ‘new normal’, according to a panel discussion at Seatrade Maritime Middle East Virtual 2020.

Cooperation amongst ports worldwide will “no longer be by choice but by necessity” as customers are increasingly looking for end-to-end supply chain and optimal connectivity, with individual port still having their own competitive market, according to Robert Sutton, Head of Abu Dhabi Ports' Logistics Cluster, Abu Dhabi Ports (ADP).

“2020 is without doubt a year of surprises, challenges and opportunities. We believe that the crisis [Covid-19 pandemic] is a trigger for innovation and certainly it has proven to be the case for ADP,” Sutton said.

The digitalisation of port operations is not about digitalising a single process, but rather it is about how the port can leverage digitalisation to have a wider impact on the entire eco-system of ports, Sutton explained.

“Our head of digital cluster Dr Noura has a holistic view on digitalisation, and then bringing that back down to specific elements – something like reverse engineering. We have seen digitalisation helping to cut down quite a lot of time and remove some risks out of the supply chain, particularly in port operations, as well as a continual removal of manual processes,” he said.

Dr Noura Al Dhaheri, Head of Digital Cluster at ADP and ceo of Maqta Gateway, the digital arm of ADP, recalled that events of the past year have forced many organisations to embrace digitalisation for the sake of business continuity.

“2020 has demonstrated that what is required by companies to endure is a strong business model backed by robust digital infrastructure and processes that can react swiftly to evolving circumstances. The focus on reducing complexity, risk and uncertainty is a must,” Dr Al Dhaheri said.

“When we consider the World Economic Forum estimates that up to 20% of the $9trn worth of goods shipped annually is spent on administration alone, digital can unlock a new era by changing and modernising how we do businesses,” she said.

On the creation of a global port eco-system, there is clearly an issue of standardisation where political agenda will come into play, while on the other hand the maturity of technology has offered avenues to harmonise standards, according to Dr Jonathan Beard, partner, infrastructure advisory at Ernst & Young Transactions

Edward Tah, ceo of Saudi Global Ports, a subsidiary of PSA International, agreed that technology has actually matured sufficiently across various platforms for adoption, though stakeholders need to be assured in terms of network security and reliable communications.

“The pandemic has had a deep and broadbased impact on the economy over a long period. The positive outcome from the pandemic is the adoption of digital activities,” Tah said.

Tah pointed out that Saudi Global Ports has been able to operate close to business as usual due to advance planning and solid partnerships with stakeholders, in addition to continuing strong demand in Saudi Arabia.

Dr Beard added: “What is worth highlighting is that for those terminals that are fully automated and less dependent on labour, they will be in a better position to adjust capacity and be less exposed to health and safety risks.

“If anything, Covid-19 has highlighted the advantages that greater automation may bring, and will accelerate this (automation) trend, whilst noting that many ports are currently financially stressed to invest in the short term,” he said.

However, due to increased requirements around inspections on empty containers and a shortage of workers to facilitate that movement, a severe container shortage issue has surfaced.

Tah of Saudi Global Ports said the port has been working hard on improving turnaround times so that shipping lines can get those empty containers back the soonest.

Dr Beard opined that the shortage of containers may not be fully resolved in the next one to two months, but the situation is set to improve after the upcoming Chinese New Year.

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