Growing Digitally

While it severely affected the maritime sector, the Covid-19 outbreak resulted in an increase in the adoption of technology-based solutions at Indian ports. Right from processing electronic documents and launching digital platforms to undertake remote surveys, the ports climbed up the technology ladder. Indian Infrastructure takes a look at the digitalisation initiatives and technological advancements undertaken in the port sector…

A string of measures

For increasing operational efficiency, the Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways (MoPSW) launched Project Unnati to benchmark the performance of major ports against select Indian private ports and best-in-class international ports. A total of 116 initiatives were identified across major ports to unlock a capacity of more than 100 million tonnes per annum. As of September 30, 2020, 98 initiatives have been completed while three are under implementation.

The MoPSW has implemented the port community system (PCS) for providing electronic connectivity to major ports. The system is based on a cloud-based, new-generation technology that seeks to integrate port community stakeholders on a single platform. Currently, all the 12 major ports have been integrated with the PCS. On the same lines, the Indian Ports Association has launched e-invoice, e-payment and electronic delivery order (eDO) facilities free of charge for all the stakeholders on PCS1x. The next-generation eDO is a single platform to perform all eDO-related activities, including e-invoice and e-payment.

In a major development, ONE (Ocean Network Express) Line (India) Private Limited has become the first carrier to launch its eDO on the PCS1x. The service is expected to help ONE customers save time and money in clearing cargo, and expedite delivery order extension and empty offload processes.

Further, Portall, a logistics management application developed by the J.M. Baxi Group has partnered with Return Trucks (RT), a digital platform that connects transport operators (trailers and truckers) for smooth cargo shipment. RT services can be accessed via the collaborative platform, which is live on PCS1x. The key services offered on P-CaSo are blockchain/smartPLs and electronic bill of lading; blockchain digital document transfer and archive repository; digital truck and trailer aggregation; electronically verified gross mass services; and e-learning for the maritime and logistics industry.

In order to ensure faceless, paperless and contactless customs, the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC) has introduced a secure QR coded shipping bill under the umbrella of “Turant Customs”. The bill will be sent to the exporters electronically after customs allows exports. Turant Customs is a part of next-generation reforms that will completely eliminate the need to approach customs officers for proof of export. The CBIC has also enabled PDF-based final electronic out-of-charge (eOoC) copies of the bill of entry (BoE) and eGatepasses to the importers/customs brokers. eOoC is expected to reduce the interface between customs authorities and importers/customs brokers. Meanwhile, the Directorate General of Foreign Trade has introduced a new online facility for obtaining import licences for restricted category goods with the aim of promoting paperless work and improving ease of doing business.

With a view to encourage Atmanirbhar Bharat, the central government launched an indigenous software solution for vessel traffic services (VTS) and vessel traffic monitoring systems in October 2020. To this end, a prototype system is expected to be developed by August 2021 for testing. It will operate as a parallel system until it is robust enough to carry out day-to-day operations. Currently, the country has approximately 15 operational VTS systems.

The country’s largest container handling major port, the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) has been upgraded to the latest technology for navigation and vessel manoeuvring training. The upgradation has been implemented by ARI with indigenous technology. The enhanced ship manoeuvring simulator is expected to ensure the availability of the latest modules and features to augment the port’s training capabilities and make available superior training outcomes for pilots. Further, JNPT has collaborated with online truck aggregator BlackBuck  to release an Uber-like model for picking up and dropping cargo containers in order to improve ease of doing business.

In another development, DMICDC Logistics Data Services Limited has implemented its logistics data bank services at 16 ports and 25 port terminals across the country. The implementation of these services is expected to enhance supply chain efficiency by leveraging information and communication technology.

PSA Mumbai, in collaboration with ODeX India Solutions, launched a digital online payments solution in September 2020 for its direct port delivery (DPD) customers. With this, PSA’s DPD customers will be able to process their documentation and pay terminal handling charges on the ODeX platform. The portal will provide real-time status updates, uploading/ amendments in documents, e-payment and confirmation for delivery.

In November 2020, GOCON, a digital transport aggregator platform that connects trailers and truck operators with shippers, was launched at Syama Prasad Mookerjee port (erstwhile Kolkata port). The initiative is aimed at balancing import and export container movement inside the port, thereby reducing the internal congestion and turnaround time for trailers.

As a one-stop solution for order-to-invoice processes that supports multimodal (vessel, rail, truck and barge) and multipurpose (container, break bulk, liquid bulk, dry bulk and roll-on-roll-off) requirements by leveraging digital platforms, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) deployed its terminal operating system (ToS), TCS DynaPORT, at Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Limited’s Mundra T4 terminal. TCS remotely deployed its ToS at Mundra’s terminal amidst the lockdown.

Digital enhancement amid Covid-19

The outbreak of Covid-19 landed the maritime sector in uncharted waters. Every sphere of the sector was impacted, from reduced cargo operations to disruptions in the supply chain. In this situation, the technological and digital advancements greatly helped reduce the impact of the pandemic.

In an attempt to avoid physical contact, many ports adopted online systems for issuing permits and e-passes. Under this, the applicant can apply for passes online with the help of a cloud-based application. After verification of the required documents, the passes are authorised digitally and sent to the applicant online, thereby avoiding an unnecessary visit to the control room.

Meanwhile, many ports have enabled the concept of e-office, an application developed to carry out office work electronically. Under this, physical contact with office files is minimised by making all the files digitally available on the e-office. It also helps the staff in obtaining administrative approvals. The Mumbai Port Trust and JNPT have adopted this concept amidst the pandemic. The outbreak of the novel coronavirus has made e-office necessary for port operations.

In July 2020, the CBIC introduced new functionalities in the Indian Customs Electronic Data Interchange Gateway (ICEGATE) to reduce the need for physical interaction between customs and trade and speed up the customs clearance process. The new functionalities include registration of the authorised dealer code and bank accounts through ICEGATE; automated debit of bond after assessment; and simplified registration of importers/exporters at ICEGATE. It has also introduced modern testing equipment into the Central Revenues Control Laboratory (CRCL) to increase the in-house testing capability of customs for faster import and export clearances. Eight CRCL laboratories – in New Delhi, Kandla, Vadodara, Mumbai, Nhava Sheva, Kochi, Chennai and Visakhapatnam – have obtained approval from the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories for chemical testing.

The way forward

The sector has witnessed increasing penetration of technology in recent years along with increased support and encouragement from the ministry. The technological advancements and digitalisation of the maritime sector have greatly reduced the impact of Covid-19 on the efficiency of ports. However, the level of digitalisation at various port operations still remains limited. The use of digital, multi-stakeholder systems is a new area for Indian ports. Going forward, port operations are expected to be technology-driven, which will enhance efficiency levels and improve ease of doing business. Given the rapidly changing technological landscape, fully functional digitalised ports will soon become the new normal.