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Standardisation is needed to make cargo flow more connected and efficient


In the cargo shipping industry, we are still missing standards on various areas. Without standardisation, every single project is inventing the wheel again. Luckily the industry is aware of the situation and works hard to find common ways to work.


The shipping industry is all about a network of vessels, ports, terminals and inland facilities supporting the container value chain. Everything has to be connected, but today we have too many platforms without a clear aim to re-engineer current business and operational processes.

Much of this is due to a lack of standardisation. In the vessel port call process for example, we are still debating the true meaning of the concept of vessel ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival). With things like this still open, it is difficult to move to more complicated items.

If our industry can align and standardise its terminology and data, things like digitalisation and automation will get easier. Eventually different ecosystems within/between vessels, ports, terminals and inland operations will then interact and communicate more transparently and proactively.

Another example is at automated terminals. So far the industry has not been able to implement them in a consistent and repeatable manner, and terminal system architectures are not providing required flexibility to deal with planning dynamics, nor are they able to create a seamless connection with the supply chain to transform terminals into intelligent logistic nodes. We have not been able to intertwine human labour, machines and software properly so far, so that we would be able to manage uncertainty in an integrated and proactive manner.

Us IT people within the industry still believe too much in the technology to save us; that APIs in themselves would be the ‘holy grail’ that transform the container industry and set us towards a new way of working. This is not the case. Fundamental changes are needed on planning and execution processes, and associated workflows, to make those APIs able to communicate reliable and real-time data.

Luckily, things are moving forward. The industry is fully convinced that the standardisation is part of its core focus at this moment. There are many groups and communities that work together globally to solve these issues.

I have the honour to participate in various of these work groups. For example, in the Global Port Call Optimization Task Force, where 15 large scale ports like Rotterdam, Shanghai, Busan, Singapore, Hamburg, Houston and Algeciras work together to create standard references for port-related master data, and event data that supports vessel operations in the port.

Another positive example is the recent partnership to consolidate industry standards with terminal operators leading the effort. Here we work towards creating alignment in terms of nomenclature, terminology, interfaces, etc. The group is part of the Port Equipment Manufacturers Association (PEMA) and the Federation of European Private Port Operators (FEPORT), and several Terminal Operators are joining.

Even though these - and many other - groups are actively at work, we are still at very early stages. At the moment, conversations between parties are mainly about creating good will.

But the work is definitely ongoing. Some initiatives are broad and targeting the whole supply chain, while others are more specific.

The standardisation within the cargo shipping industry can be achieved, like it has been done earlier in other industries. The good thing is that we can learn from these who have taken this route before us. Take airlines or airports, for example, where a holistic alignment of terminology, data and ecosystem real-time communication has brought about greater levels of efficiency, and opened new paradigms at operations or business practices.

I strongly believe that by working together on standardisation will make us us more efficient and give us more aligned processes to use.

What are your thoughts?
What do you think it will take for the industry to achieve a high level of standardisation? How will be create a seemless flow from ships to ports and inland terminals - and vice versa? Join the discussion and share your thoughts using the hashtag #smarterbettertogether.

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