By Erich Gerber
When you slice an avocado, its journey from plantation to kitchen and the multiple handlers responsible along the way rarely comes to mind. It is only when avocado prices spike, or stocks run low on the supermarket shelves that we realize just how much we depend on products sourced from overseas which appear almost like magic on our doorstep.
This should come as no surprise in Hong Kong which is, after all, the gateway between mainland China and the rest of the world. Hong Kong plays a vital role supporting the world with the supply of goods produced in what has been described as the “world’s factory” and in turn shipping products into China from the rest of the world. To place this in context, in 2018, Hong Kong’s domestic goods exports were valued at US$6bn, while the value of re-exports totalled approximately US$530.5bn, with the top two destinations of all re-exports being mainland China and the US.
This network is essential to the global economy and like elsewhere, the ports of the Asia Pacific and the entire system of maritime trade contribute substantially to economic prosperity in the region. Nonetheless, the region was still impacted by the reduction in global maritime shipping volumes in 2020. In this context, it is imperative the international shipping industry focuses on managing risks closely as well as future-proofing supply chains and processes to operate effectively in a transformed world. This is driving innovations in port planning and operations to address shifting consumer and trade demands.
Some of the most advanced ports in the world are exploring how new technologies can augment their traditional supply chain offerings and deliver operational value and efficiencies. Operators at the Port of Rotterdam tested a drone in 2020 to deliver packages rather than requiring crew to come ashore. It is just one of the uses for drones that ease traffic and transport activities and make processes more efficient and already drones are being used by UPS and other delivery services. Similarly, officials at the Port of Antwerp have developed an API platform to enable its partners to collaborate seamlessly. Although, the use of advanced technologies and integrated partner activities can make international operations more efficient, it cannot be achieved unless the data generated from these activities is managed and simple to acquire for analysis.
Similar to other industries, since the pandemic the use of data analytics to uncover insights has been increasingly applied. Speed and agility in operations are proven benefits of harnessing the ability for ports to process cargo on more vessels and reduce delivery times as well as costs. Digitalisation across ports in the region also increases data sharing and port integration opportunities. Achieving this operational efficiency means embracing enhanced connectivity through smart technologies and improving access to data for employees, partners and customers in all digitisation plans across the value chain.
Leading a development revolution
Asia Pacific has set an example for the world in port development. China’s One Belt One Road initiative, intended to connect 70 countries’ ports and railways for more seamless transportation, is just one example of the massive investment in the region. Hong Kong, one of the major ports of the world, continues to flourish as a hub port serving the South Asian Pacific region and acting as an important entrepôt for the Mainland of China and a transshipment port in the region.
Despite plans like these across the region, key challenges exacerbated by the pandemic need to be overcome across the supply chain. A lack of long-term infrastructure development across different modes of transportation as well as insufficient connectivity and standardisation across borders are vitally important areas to address. Port facilities are also underdeveloped in many places, without enough skilled workers or technology solutions. Cybersecurity is also a concern as IT teams need to ensure that the massive amounts of data generated is processed quickly and handled in a standardised and secure manner.
To improve port productivity and overall operating efficiency at terminals, port operators and shipping and logistics enterprises need to invest in smart technologies that enable automation. This will help to solve safety, supply, and labour issues, prevent human error, and build more sustainable and resilient operations.
The role of data in smart technologies
Ports face pressure to process cargo faster in addition to competition from new facilities. As the shipping and logistics industry transforms and becomes more data-driven, ports must do the same. This means addressing common congestion and container space issues, cyber-attack risks, and the supply chain resilience issues exposed by the pandemic. Providing terminal managers with robotics and IoT solutions will allow them to improve processes to make ports more efficient and productive as well as manage disruption. Smart ports in Asia Pacific have the potential to not only redefine cross-border trade but also accelerate the seamless movement of products and, potentially, create a truly collaborative environment.
For example, when global maritime logistics business CyberLogitec automated its shipping terminal operations using data analytics, it gained more insight into the real-time location of equipment, and can now leverage the data collected from IoT devices. Global shipment management solutions provider CargoSmart also used data analytics to achieve unprecedented visibility into their business to improve decision-making in real time and better serve customers.
To be truly effective, ports and their partner networks must do more than adopt these technologies alone. They must embrace platforms and solutions that make it easier for stakeholders to enhance the overall port ecosystem. Port operators who don’t move forward risk being overtaken by competitors that make the most of smart port technologies. In a short time, it will help bring avocados, electronics, medical supplies, and other products we need and love from other parts of the world to us faster and more reliably than we ever envisioned.
Erich Gerber is SVP, EMEA & APJ at TIBCO Software Inc.