Insight & Analysis

Navigating a route to digitisation

Published: Jun 2022

Digital Container Shipping Association’s Chief Product Officer tells Treasury Today that digitisation can help address ongoing disruption to the global supply chain.

Route mapped out with pins and string on paper map

Earlier this month, the Digital Container Shipping Association (DCSA) appointed Henk Jan Gerzee Chief Product Officer with the remit to standardise the development of digitisation across the container shipping industry.

It is widely acknowledged that shipping is behind other industries in terms of its adoption of technology and remains heavily reliant on paper documents. The association’s objective is to lay the groundwork for interoperable IT solutions in container shipping through the development of digital standards for the industry.

When asked to explain the key stages in this process and how much progress has been made in each of these stages, Gerzee refers to improving the reliability of shipping and port operations, enabling cargo visibility as it travels between destinations, and enabling digital trade with electronic documentation.

“In the first of these areas, DCSA has released standards for just-in-time port calls to enable better operational planning and more efficient fuel usage as well as operational vessel schedules to create schedule visibility between vessel sharing partners,” he explains.

To enable cargo visibility, standards have been created for the tracking and tracing of shipments and the use of the internet of things for smart containers so their status and whereabouts can be tracked throughout their journey at sea or on land.

Enabling digital trade with electronic documentation is possibly the most significant area of development.

“Digital standards for end-to-end shipping documentation – including the bill of lading – are a necessary first step to enable full digitisation of shipping documentation and achieve a universal electronic bill of lading that will help eliminate paper from international trade,” says Gerzee.

Earlier this year, DCSA participated in the launch of the US Department of Transportation’s

Freight Logistics Optimization Works (FLOW) initiative designed to ease supply chain congestion by strengthening digital supply chain infrastructure.

According to Gerzee, digitisation will create a more reliable, resilient and responsive supply chain by enabling participants to digitise data and send and receive it (from machine to machine) in real time in a way that is understandable and usable for everyone.

“This will not only simplify and clarify the booking/documentation process, it will also provide visibility into container whereabouts and status throughout the container journey – giving shippers instant access to the information they need to make informed, data-driven decisions,” he says.

In the short term, greater visibility should help increase the efficiency, reliability and sustainability of container shipping while fostering innovation and a better customer experience.

“Over the long term, data-driven decision making at all levels of operation will keep the supply chain moving and enable it to become more agile, resilient to change and responsive to customer demand and market forces,” says Gerzee.

Gerzee was previously responsible for digital technology implementation at Schiphol Airport. He suggests that the air freight industry has not necessarily made more rapid progress towards implementing digital technology than the shipping industry, but rather that it started the process much earlier.

The key to that industry’s success has been getting high level buy-in from a diverse range of global airlines who decided to take a group approach to the adoption of technology and standards, he says.

“Shipping companies can achieve that same level of collaboration. Shared standards for non-competitive IT practices will allow for a level playing field across the global shipping industry, ensuring innovation can flourish on a common technological foundation,” concludes Gerzee.

“Interoperability through digital data exchange also means regulators, shipping companies, customers, partners and suppliers of shipping companies will be able to work together much more easily.”

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