AAPA Seaports


Embracing the Digital Transformation Generation

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The port industry is amid a digital transformation, with technologies driving additional efficiencies and providing new insights. Implementation is the next crucial step, and revolutionary ideas to assist in this step are being explored and tested all over the world.

* By Sandy Smith *

Derrick Whalen, director of information and technology services for the Port of Halifax, has spent just a few months on the job and in the seaports industry. But he already sees opportunities to make an impact.

“This is the challenge I was hoping it would be,” Whalen said.

Sure, there are the issues of learning a new job and industry. But Whalen comes to the port at a time when the industry is amid a digital transformation, with technologies driving additional efficiencies and providing new insights.

Whalen, who has worked in other industries that faced similar digital change, believes there are two responses for any organization: “You can be a resistor of the change or embrace the change,” he said. “From the CEO down, this organization is embracing digital transformation.”

The same could be said of the broader seaport industry as several new initiatives are underway.

Gene Seroka, executive director for the Port of Los Angeles, believes the digital transformation is a generational change. “If we can harness data with the level of ingenuity that we demonstrated on the engineering side 35 or 40 years ago when we built infrastructure, this will be regarded as a special time. This is our digital infrastructure generation.”

The digital infrastructure revolves significantly around blockchain, also known as distributed ledger technology. Its most prominent product at this point is bitcoin and other digital currencies. At its most foundational level, blockchain creates a list of records that are linked together. Each block contains information about the previous block, a timestamp and transaction data. It will create a “secure digital document repository for the shipping industry,” Whalen said. “You will have a ledger using common processes to share documents that are secure and verifiable. No one will be able to change the information and you can share information between partners. Blockchain is a trust platform.”

On a practical level, it means that the Port of Montréal has insight into cargo from the second it leaves a small village in India. “It provides us with tremendous business intelligence and market intelligence,” said Daniel Olivier, director business intelligence and innovation at Montréal Port Authority.

Montréal participates in TradeLens, a blockchain software platform developed by Maersk and IBM. As of mid-2019, TradeLens had more than 100 organizations throughout the supply chain: shippers, ports, terminal operators, third-party logistics and freight forwarders.

“A majority of our ocean customers are on one single platform, which provides visibility end-to-end,” Olivier said.

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