Delivering smart ports to the masses; solving the 80/20 challenge
What is a smart port?
The idea of a ‘smart port’ is nothing new. As integral parts of the transport and logistics (T&L) supply chain, ports have long competed in a race to become smarter and more efficient, from the adoption of automation to the integration of the network of sensors and Big Data that makes up the Internet of Things (IoT). According to the consulting firm Deloitte, the current working definition of a smart port depends on IoT adoption – for them, a truly smart port not only smoothly automates its operations but derives maximum value from gathered data that these operations generate.
However, only the few top tier ports (circa 20% of the market) around the world are delivering this. The majority mid-sized and small ports (circa 80% of the market) are missing out.
Making towage and pilotage smarter
If seaports are playing catch-up when it comes to IoT applications on land, it could be argued that they are not even in the race when it comes to applying data, AI, and automation to tug, towage, and pilotage operations. These operations, often overlooked, are essential to the smooth functioning of ports. They represent the ‘last mile’ challenge of a seaborne cargo’s journey – and just as the ‘last mile’ is a particularly difficult piece of the logistics chain to automate or streamline on land (hence the proliferation of services such as Uber, Deliveroo etc.), it’s also very difficult to digitise at sea.
When a ship makes a port call, the marine services provided by pilots, tugboats, and pilot boats need to be scheduled and dispatched for the vessel’s safe approach into the port. A vast number of scheduling considerations need to be evaluated, including matching a pilot with a suitable license, pilot dispatch rules, finding a suitable number of tugboats to provide the power to move the vessel, weather conditions, tide considerations, and other crucial factors to be taken into account before allocating the resources.
The missing pieces in the automation puzzle
So what? Not everything has to be automated for its own sake, you might argue – and we’d agree. However, right now, many of the seaport services are managed without the right level of technology, with fleet managers or port masters relying on whiteboards or Excel spreadsheets to manage the planning, dispatch, tracking, monitoring, and billing. The outcome of this is that information gets lost or is significantly delayed, inefficiencies creep in and opportunities are missed.
It means that tug usage is not optimised, and additional – costly – fleet maintenance is required. A lack of marine billing software also means that bills fall through the cracks, and payment can be delayed. Inefficient planning of these critical resources, inaccuracies in recording key details, and billing problems often become the cause of disputes. Smarter and more efficient towage and pilotage operations also reduce idle time for vessels waiting to enter the port when it’s busy, saving time, avoiding the risk of demurrage, and reducing carbon emissions. These factors will continue to increase in importance as ports look to further increase their competitive advantage.
While automation is sometimes feared as something that takes away control from people, in this instance, a lack of automation and technology means that tug fleets, pilots, and ports, lack control over their operations. At the same time, ship owners, charterers, and ship managers all expect seamless operations and service from ports. This can fall apart when it comes to the crucial last mile. Utilizing smart technology is a differentiator in today’s world, also for ports and ship owners.
What’s holding the sector back, then? One of the main reasons is resource. While the largest players in the market have the capacity to develop in-house port management information software, this is a significant challenge for the mid-size and smaller ports and tug fleets that make up the majority of the market. Innovez One however, it committed to bringing digitalisation and making the same Port Management Information System available to the widest number of ports and towage operators within the maritime industry; providing solutions that not only deliver a significant commercial return on investment but also improve safety and reliability, reduce emissions and increase their competitive advantage. This way we can level the playing fields, open up opportunities for all, create a better and more efficient global port infrastructure, and solve the 80/20 challenge.