Digitalisation hung up on standards

Rotterdam has taken the lead on digitalisation initiatives. Credit: Pictures_With_Impact / 77 images Rotterdam has taken the lead on digitalisation initiatives. Credit: Pictures_With_Impact / 77 images
Industry Database

COMMENT: Every year, by the end of summer time, clear themes have emerged in the maritime business, writes Barry Parker.

After a false start with blockchain earlier in the year, it is clear that the broader theme of digitalisation will prove to be seminal for 2018. Consequently, ports need to think strategically, way beyond the IT department, into the creation of digital infrastructures that will support commerce in and around their port, now and in the future. Quite simply, ports can be information brokers.

When data is used properly (which, to me, means in an actionable way), people can be more productive, and can make better decisions. In the port context, think how digitised data from Automatic Identification Systems is now indispensable to vessel traffic management.

Ultimately, digital technologies can be a potent business differentiator for port — I’ve made that point in previous articles, though it’s not always an easy sell. The pushback particularly comes from ports that are landlords, ceding much of their operating responsibility to tenants.

For inspiration here look to a project in Rotterdam. The port’s efforts, co-ordinated with other ports — including at least one in the US — large carriers, cargo interests and industry associations, have come together into an application for better planning of port calls. Alongside it, Rotterdam has built a port-specific ship-tracking application drawing on vast amounts of AIS data.

My big issue, when it comes to maritime digitalisation, is standards, or really the lack thereof; nobody is really in charge amid the loud cacophony from vendors and erstwhile first movers. Another issue is the sheer impossibility of predicting exactly what tech breakthrough might come from left field.

In contrast, my friends at VesselTracker.com, a provider of AIS data and applications for deriving business insights from it, are involved in the Rotterdam project and gave me a useful perspective on how to navigate the brave new data world. They emphasised building of applications and interfaces that comply with a variety of widely-used protocols now, with adaptability to future surprises.

While I will leave the technical advising to the experts, common sense dictates that programmes and digital infrastructures should be able to communicate with the widest variety of other data intensive applications. In the context of an information broker, the ports need to able to hook up to as many outlets as possible.

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