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‘Majority of world’s seaports still lack digital technology’

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The majority of the world’s 4,900 ports are not yet using digital technology for even the most basic processes, Innovez One, a Singapore-based provider of smart-tech and AI solutions for the maritime sector has said.

As explained, 80 per cent of ports continue to rely on manual, legacy solutions such as whiteboards or spreadsheets to manage critical marine services such as towage, pilotage and launch boats. This leaves many ports commercially vulnerable and less able to compete in an increasingly digital world.

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While the phrase ‘smart ports’ has been used regularly within the maritime industry for a number of years, the benefits of digitalisation remain the preserve of only a few, large ‘Tier 1’ ports that have the profile and financial muscle. This has created a polarised landscape within the port sector, according to the tech company.

Many ‘Tier 2 and below’ ports still use manual, paper-based processes or Excel spreadsheets to arrange and execute jobs and rely on personal interaction and paper-based transactions as the norms for shipboard, ship-port interface and port-hinterland-based exchanges. This leads to a range of inefficiencies in order, execution, and billing, as well as a lack of sustainability and competitiveness, Innovez One stressed.

Alarmingly, this dynamic makes the ‘last mile’ of a journey at sea a weak link in the global logistics chain, opening up risks of delays, late payments, increased fuel consumption and emissions, reduced revenues, and even safety concerns stemming from a lack of traceability.

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For the 20% of ports where this is not the case, they have often been able to rely on their own in-house software, Innovez One noted.

“The current dynamic reflects the often-messy reality of port operations, which is a blend of high-tech digital and paper-based, manual processes sitting side-by-side,” David Yeo, CEO, Innovez-One, commented.

“This causes issues in relation to interoperability, where systems are not talking to each other properly, which is impeding effective execution. However, it also highlights the fact that while global supply chains are becoming increasingly automated, of which ports are an integral part, the majority of ports still overwhelmingly rely on person-to-person systems.”

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The ramifications and missed opportunities for ports from increased efficiencies, revenues, sustainability and competitiveness are said to be significant. In particular, towage operators are missing out on the opportunity to make substantial savings of their annual fuel costs by reducing the mileage of tugs while saving yearly maintenance costs and personnel cost savings of their towage vessels.

However, Innovez-One believes that this current dynamic does not need to continue and that the vast majority of ports are unnecessarily missing out on the opportunity to reap the benefits of digitalisation; particularly when affordable technology, with a fast return on investment, exists and is readily available.

Critically, as ports digitise, the solutions developed must be based on a strategic port framework with a set of common criteria. One of the core elements will be to consistently ensure that management systems are based on common design criteria to support an open architecture, enabling different solutions and applications from various suppliers and vendors to co-exist and be interoperable with each other, in real-time.

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This must be handled in an agile way to secure compatibility so that port management services can continue to provide services without interruption 24/7/365.

“It is staggering that digitalisation seems to have only been reserved for the larger top-tier ports and established towage operators. Our mission is to readdress the imbalance because there is no reason why every port cannot be a smart port; digitalisation should be for the many, not the few,” David Yeo continued.

The company designed and engineered its proprietary software, marineM, an AI-powered platform for managing seaports and nautical services operators’ entire operations, linking together each stage of the towage and pilotage chain.

The solution has been used in some of Asia’s busiest ports, such as Singapore and Tanjung Priok in Indonesia, for over a decade in some cases, enabling hundreds of thousands of dollars of savings per year. In Tanjung Priok, marineM has saved $155,000 in annual fuel costs, by reducing mileage by 20%, as well as $90,000 in annual maintenance costs, and $150k per year in reduced incidents.

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