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Hit and Sunk? AI and Blockchain to Solve the Challenges of Seaports

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09 December 2020

Seaports have long been advancing toward digitalization, driven by the need to streamline complex processes in a competitive environment. The current situation has made it clear that this is no longer enough. It is time for these ports to be transformed into smart ports with the help of disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence and blockchain.

Ports as critical infrastructures in international trade

Around 90% of world trade is maritime trade. An estimated 11 billion tons of goods were transported in 2019, the equivalent of 1,540 kg per year and person. And all this shipping traffic has to be managed in the ports.

Ports face major challenges, starting with the decline the shipping industry has experienced over the last decade. And while ports have been shifting towards modernization for years, they are extraordinarily complex infrastructures where all logistics agents must be coordinated. In most cases, the current level of digitalization has failed to cushion the impact of COVID-19, underscoring the industry’s technological challenges.

 

Adopting new technologies to streamline processes

Technological progress is a trend that gives ports a competitive advantage, to such an extent that the concept of Smart Ports is being developed. Smart Ports use and exchange data for route optimization, the detection and resolution of inefficiencies and resource management, thus enhancing the agility of port operations. This requires data management strategies and innovative collaboration frameworks in the port community.

Data can be obtained from multiple sources and, to that end, the advancement of the IoT is a major opportunity. As an example, the Port of Rotterdam is developing a digital twin that models its processes using the IoT and its cloud platform.

The digital transformation strategy requires skills in these disruptive technologies. According to the UfM Secretariat, many developed countries are organizing clusters and incubators in the shipping industry to encourage the growth of high-tech companies and attract the talent needed.

 

The challenge of sustainability is an opportunity

The regulatory agenda and social pressure help to make sustainability an increasingly popular value proposition in maritime transport. According to UNCTAD, ports are expected to refocus their investments on sustainability. It would seem, therefore, that large investments in infrastructure to accommodate large ships favored by those with economies of scale will not be as prevalent.

Environmental compliance is not only a differential value for ports but can also lead to cost savings if it is aligned with a strategy of resource optimization. Technology can provide the tools to adopt this approach.

 

Integration and collaboration to meet competitive pressure

Competitive pressure has long been pushing port industry players towards increased collaboration and partnerships.

Port authorities are integrating horizontally through mergers or systematic cooperation projects. As examples, the Port of Ghent and the Zeeland Seaport have merged into a cross-border cooperation called North Sea Ports, and Florida's ports of have often opted to work together to obtain public funds more easily.

Vertical collaboration between ports, transport companies, terminal operators and regulatory agencies is aimed at expanding the supply of port services through technology. Moreover, increased visibility throughout the supply chain can help increase resilience and diversify business opportunities for ports.

In fact, according to the UNCTAD Maritime Trade Review, 2020, joint collaboration platforms, enabled by technologies such as blockchain, are increasingly used by the shipping industry, transforming business and partnership models.

 

An example of implementation: DataPorts

An interoperable data platform that provides artificial intelligence capabilities is a powerful tech solution to integrate all stakeholders in the supply chain into a seamless operation to meet the challenges of sustainability in a highly competitive environment. An example is the European project DataPorts, where a secure data platform is being developed by applying key technologies such as blockchain and artificial intelligence.

This data exchange is possible thanks to blockchain technology, which provides transparency, security and traceability and provides tools to implement the rules of access to different data sources. The platform ensures the interoperability of data from different agents, including those from IoT devices. It also includes a processing layer that increases data quality and provides capabilities for the development of artificial intelligence applications.

DataPorts will drive the transition of European ports to connected Smart Ports, capable of leveraging the power of large datasets to streamline their processes and offer new services. The time has come to apply these technologies to the business to stay competitive.

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