Creating Value for the Transport Buyer with Digital Data Streams


Published Mar 9, 2020 4:00 PM by Mikael Lind, André Simha and Hanane Becha

All businesses face three particular strategic challenges: creating demand for their products and services, providing innovation, and surpassing their competitors in efficiency. Transport companies are not immune to these challenges. Like other businesses, they succeed and prosper by addressing these challenges and creating better value for the transport buyer and their investors.

Transport systems are self-organizing ecosystems – made up of essentially independent actors, but ones that are often dependent on the actions of others before they can effectively make their own contribution to the maritime transportation chain. This means that the many autonomous actors that are involved are obliged to create a culture of collaboration, both among themselves and with their clients. Focus on coordinating the actions performed by the different actors to complete the process of moving goods from producer to consumer efficiently and thereby maintaining demand for their various services is key. The transport ecosystem also needs to continually search for innovation that can reduce costs or add value or both.

Digital data streams (DDS) have the potential to address the three strategic challenges mentioned earlier, and the maritime industry has much to gain. Combining multiple DDSs can provide a common situational awareness that improves the accurate monitoring and reporting of the status of all key events in the maritime transportation chain. Digital data standards are already being introduced to encourage the generation of such data streams and to facilitate their combination, especially in the logistics chain.

Recently, the Word Economic Forum reported on “5 ways the digitization of the global logistic industry can increase trade – and reduce poverty”. It encourages enhanced digital collaboration among involved actors to enable shared visibility (common situational awareness) and provide efficiency gain opportunities building upon standardized DDSs for planned and conducted movements and provision of services. Increased collaboration will enable transport providers to deliver more accurate estimates of delivery times to transport buyers.

Contemporary DDS initiatives

Numerous initiatives are now being taken to use DDSs to provide better supply chain visibility for all involved. Some innovations include:

  • The track and trace standard newly launched by the digital container shipping association (DCSA), which focuses upon the planned and actual movements of goods in the maritime transport chain;

  • Empowering supply chain efficiency with physical data from smart assets, such as Traxens enabling innovative services, new business values in the form of seamless integration, saved costs, and reduced carbon footprint;

  • The Tradelens platform offering opportunities to track and trace goods movements across different means of transport and across different borders;

  • Global and technology agnostic concepts for digital collaboration, such as Port Collaborative Decision Making (PortCDM), defined and validated within the MONALISA and STM Validation projects, and CDM applications (such as YardCDM, StationCDM etc.), that enable a common situational awareness among actors to enhance coordination and synchronization;

  • Increased attention to Port call efficiency improvement approaches (as empowered by the International PortCDM Council (IPCDMC) and the International Taskforce Port Call Optimization (ITPCO)) as e.g. exposed in a recent UNCTAD article on Digitalizing the port call process;

  • Cross-border collaboration to make the import and export processes of goods transferred between national borders smoother as described in the UN/CEFACT smart container white paper: “Real-time Smart Container data for supply chain excellence - Fast Line use case”;

  • Concepts for authentication and discoverability, such as the maritime connectivity platform (MCP), Internet of Logistics, and the 5 logistic internets.

The landscape of standards for DDSs

A DDS can capture, and thus represent, the six basic elements that might describe an event; the who, what, when, where, why, and how elements. To do this effectively, we need standards to ensure these required elements are collected and recorded in a consistent manner and at the right level of detail. This level of standardization is now in full swing, opening the door for DDSs.

During the last 20 years, the IMO has through its enavigation initiative within IMO/MSC provided “component” standards to support its common maritime data structure (CMDS) framework. Recently, an initiative of BIMCO has focussed on expanding the IMO Reference Data Model in which the definitions of core objects associated with Just-in-time shipping are identified, by drawing on those already defined and maintained by the relevant standardization bodies (such as UN/CEFACT, WCO, WTO, etc.).

UN/CEFACT has for a long time worked on standards covering the inter-modal transport chain, and EPCIS of GS1 puts emphasis on providing information on cargo movements. The UN/CEFACT Smart Container Project has further developed The Smart Container Business Requirements Specification (BRS) which is a global standard defining the data elements required for a Smart Container smart assets (e.g., Reefer, Dry, Wagons) Solution. The BRS is the basis for data model definition that enables easy integration of the smart assets physical data and their synchronization with the document flow. Associated with this data model UN/CEFACT has also brought forward a smart container data model standard that aims to share the smart container data with the whole supply chain ecosystem. Smart container data is a collection of sensing technologies capturing multiple physical parameters that report container movements and status. The smart container data is an enabler for predictive services and deviations alerts to the service providers and transport buyers with regard to the progress of the physical execution of the trip plan of a container.

The latest efforts on a revitalized National Single Window approach for reporting formalities is now gaining a lot of attention due to a need to reduce administrative burdens and thereby making sea transport more efficient.

The value coming out of the combination of data streams

The innovative combination of DDSs built upon a set of robust and broad standards offers great opportunities for providing up-to-date and real-time information, and in so doing addresses the three key strategic challenges.

The following three examples using the internationally recognized port call message format S-211 with other DSSs illustrate the benefits of combining DDSs:

  • The combination of S-211 (for port call coordination and synchronization) with EPCIS for capturing the movement of goods so as to forecast when a particular consignment will arrive at a particular location;

  • The combination of S-211 with UN/CEFACT Smart container data model standard with the aim to forecast port events as parts of the trip plan of the container;

  • The combination of track and trace data with S-211 data so as to assure alignment between planned movements of goods with milestone planning.

In the digital era, event tracking can be born digital. As such, events can be captured, streamed, shared and therefore made available for processing in their digital form as they occur. As more standardized DDSs are made available, there is an ever-greater opportunity for constructing a complete picture of an emerging situation from its composition of preceding events. DDSs can generate the data for operational excellence and strategic success of value for both transport producers and their clients.

About the authors

Mikael Lind, Associate Professor and Senior strategic research advisor at RISE, has initiated and headed several open innovation initiatives related to ICT for sustainable transport of people and goods including Sea Traffic Management and Port Collaborative Decision Making (PortCDM). Lind is also the co-founder of Maritime Informatics, heads the dissemination working group of the International PortCDM Council (IPCDMC), and has a part-time employment at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden.

Andre Simha is the Chief Digital & Information Officer at MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company, the second largest container carrier in the world, whose team is responsible for implementing and developing the complex data flow between the company’s headquarters and its agencies around the globe, as well as steering the business towards the digital future of the shipping and logistics sector. Simha is also the chairman of the Digital Container Shipping Association (DCSA).

Hanane Becha holds a PhD in Computer Sciences from the University of Ottawa, Canada. She is currently the Innovation and Standards Senior Manager at TRAXENS as well UN/CEFACT Smart Container Project leader.


The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.