Review of Maritime Transport 2020 Points Out the Importance of Digitalization in Ports

“The digitalization of interactions and information-sharing has been critical to the continuity of maritime transport operations during the pandemic.” UNCTAD 2020.

The newest Review of Maritime Transport by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has been published, evaluating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the maritime industry. The report includes statistics of different aspects of ports’ business, as well as policy suggestions for supporting the industry to bounce back from the pandemic. In this article, we discuss on the viewpoints of digital solutions in the report.

How the pandemic affected the maritime industry and seaports?

Even though the report is published while the financial numbers of the year 2020 are still work in progress, the impact of COVID-19 pandemic can already be evaluated to be extensive. The pandemic affected not only the freight volumes, but also the ways of working in the ports.

“Digitalization has been a driving force in the sustainability of business during the pandemic”. UNCTAD 2020.

The change in the operations towards more digital workflows seems to be an outcome of two factors; the need for social distancing because of the health risks, and the pressure for optimizing costs in a tightened financial situation. Social distancing requires the means to work remotely; for example, in the Port Authority of Valencia over 200 employees changed their workplace from the port facilities to home offices, as stated in the report. Only the essential workers stayed in the port area, to keep the operations going. This naturally created a need to develop a remote access to port’s digital resources. Also, the improved efficiency by better collaboration and decision-making is encouraging the port industry to welcome digitalization.

What is required from a port in the digital transformation?

The development towards increased vertical integration between shipping and port services, and the need for improved cost-efficiency of operations, require better communication. Therefore, digital platforms are becoming more and more valuable in different parts of the supply chain.

One major thing to consider is the Internet capability of the port. Smooth access to the cloud platforms is essential for the digital workflow, hence many development projects around 5G connections are going on in the ports (read for example a case by Ericsson in the Port of Livorno).

Maritime industry is also a field of many professions and backgrounds. The ports face a challenge of training new digital procedures to all the workers involved in the supply chain. The user-friendliness of the digital tools and platforms is fundamental for the digital transformation to succeed.

How does the future look for the maritime transport industry?

In the report, UNCTAD discloses recommendations and suggested actions for the maritime industry to recover from the effects of COVID-19 and to be better prepared for future challenges. One of the main goals is “to promote greater technology uptake and digitalization”. It is seen that adopting new technology is no longer an option, but a necessity for the industry. Digitalization can greatly enhance port’s resilience in the sudden changes in the business environment, for example by improving collaboration.

“Digitalization becomes an enabler of change, providing solutions to optimize costs and to improve efficiency and sustainability in operations.” UNCTAD 2020.

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