Transitioning to Ports 4.0: Technology advances drive innovation and efficiency

Sameer Bhatnagar, Partner, Transport & Logistics and Global Head of Ports, KPMG, with inputs from Anand Ratnaparkhi, Associate Director, KPMG in India

Approximately 95 per cent of India’s trade by volume and 65 per cent by va­l­ue is moved through maritime transport. This gives us a perspective of how important ports and their ecosystem are to India’s growth ambitions.

As seen in the accompanying graphs, India’s GDP grew at a CAGR of 6.21 per cent during 2010-2023, while cargo traffic grew at a CAGR of 3.8 per cent during the same period. This underlines the importance of port development in India’s GDP growth.

Despite the 3.7x growth in port traffic in the past 22 years, some challenges do exist. Further, the logistics cost as a percentage of GDP for India is about 14 per cent vis-à-vis less than 10 per cent for developed countries. Some of the challenges affecting port efficiency and productivity are:

  • Infrastructural challenges: Some ports in India face high maintenance costs and bre­akdowns due to a lack of sufficient upkeep and maintenance, in addition to inadequ­ate draft at some ports and evacuation bottlenecks.
  • Non-standard processes across ports: EXIM processes are not fully digitised, impacting the efficiency of logistics. This requires higher paper rework and duplication. Further, the­re is an absence of standardised formats ac­ross stakeholders.
  • Technological challenges: Limited integration with international stakeholders, intermittent tracking and traceability of cargo and inadequate data exchange across authorities to provide a holistic view are some of the technological challenges.
  • Operational inefficiency: Port congestion, documentation and paperwork, and regulatory clearances are the most common problems across ports, causing detention and de­murrage. Across various ports, the dwell time for the export process ranges widely from 46.3 hours to 149.4 hours, while for the im­port process it ranges from 15.5 hours to 66.7 hours (as per data for April 2023).

Planning for the future

As India moves towards a $20 trillion economy by 2047, the port capacity is also required to increase in tandem to around 10,000 mtpa from the existing 2,600 mtpa. Moreover, the government is keen to reduce the logistics cost in India to less than 10 per cent of GDP in line with the benchmarks of developed countries. To augment the capacity of ports and their ecosystem, the government has taken several measures towards the modernisation and digitalisation of ports and their ecosystem.

The Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Water­ways launched the Sagarmala Programme as the flagship programme to promote port-led de­velopment in the country. Under the programme, more than 800 projects at an estimated cost of around Rs 5.5 trillion have been identified for implementation during 2015-2035. Of these, as of March 2022, 194 projects worth Rs 0.99 trillion have been completed and 218 projects worth Rs 2.12 trillion are under various stages of implementation.

The Sagarmala Programme consists of five major – port modernisation and new port development, port connectivity enhancement, port-linked industrialisation, coastal community development, and promotion of coastal shipping and inland waterways.

To develop global standard ports in India, the Maritime India Vision 2030 has identified initiatives such as development of world-class mega ports and transshipment hubs, and infrastructure modernisation with an estimated investment of Rs 1,000 billion–Rs 1,250 billion. To establish mega ports in India, three key factors need to be considered, including deep-draft availability to handle an increasing number of mega-ships in the future, effective hinterland connectivity to facilitate best-in-class evacuation and land availability to create a sustainable industrial ecosystem arou­nd the port.

With regard to digitalisation, several digital transformation measures have been successfully introduced across India’s major ports, particularly the development of a port community system (PCS) in the form of NLP Marine 2.0, the installation of container scanners and RFID systems, and elimination of paper forms. For imp­roving the visibility of container movement, several technologies, such as Logistics Data Bank, FOIS, GPS based tracking, integration with terminal operating systems, are already in place at some nodes. Several initiatives are also being taken to improve the ease of doing business, rationalise and standardise processes, and im­plement the enterprise business system at some of the major ports.

The creation of digital assets and a digital stack of applications will help enhance the customer experience and derive multi-fold efficiency gains. The digital assets can involve the use of predictive models, AI/ML, optimisation tools and IoT for real-time tracking, among others. These can significantly alter the landscape of ports and help Indian ports leapfrog to standards set by Singapore, Rotterdam, Antwerp, the UAE, etc.

Towards ports 4.0

There are three major areas –  seaside, which covers vessel planning and vessel movement on sea; ports and terminals, which cater to vessel berthing, cargo loading/offloading, customs clearance; and landside operations, which involve multimodal transportation of cargo from the factory door to the terminal (for the export cycle) and from the terminal to the factory door (for the import cycle).

For ports and their entire ecosystem, it is very important that advanced technologies in all these three areas are closely interlinked and work in harmony to derive maximum business benefits. To this end, consignors require ease of doing business, single window clearance, cargo visibility and supply chain analytics. For a transporter, technologies for route optimisation, tra­nsportation planning and vehicle tracking will be critical. For private freight terminals/container and frei­ght stations/warehouses, automation of yard management, optimal space utilisation and warehouse automation will be crucial. For ports and terminals, technologies in asset management, predictive maintenance using real-time sensor data, an integrated PCS, and automated berth planning will be critical. Similarly, for shipping lines, technologies for pricing optimisation, vessel tracking, cybersecurity, emissions control and predictive maintenance will play a very important role.

Some of the intelligent or new-age technologies that can drive business benefits are:

  • IoT and big data analytics-based technologies such as crane sensors can help increase the productivity of cranes by reducing downtime and ensuring timely maintenance.
  • GIS can help with real-time updating of plot/ yard occupancy status and minimise the time spent on completing manual checks and pro­cesses during allocation.
  • Optimisation tools using AI/ML such as vessel arrival prediction, vehicle booking syste­ms and hinterland truck marketplace can help in streamlining port operations, increasing transparency, and ultimately improving the ease of doing business while increasing port efficiency.
  • Technologies such as 3D printing of spare parts for vessel repairs and automated guided vehicles are being piloted internationally; they may become mainstream and relevant for the Indian context in the coming years.

Hence, with the help of advanced technologies, a lot of challenges will get addre­ss­ed. These include port congestion because of poor planning, suboptimal utilisation of as­sets, frequent breakdowns that can be add­re­ssed th­rou­gh IoT-based predictive asset maintenance, resulting in greater utilisation of ass­ets and reduced cost of operations. Moreover, the unified platform, along with standardised and optimised processes on the platform, provides all stakeholders with seamless visibility of the en­tire port operations, leading to grea­ter predic­tability and certainty throughout the operatio­nal flow, ensuring consistent outco­mes. This will greatly reduce the overall container dwell time, help all the stakeholders in their forward planning of the supply chain and ultimately im­prove the ease of doing business.


As India continues its growth journey and port modernisation efforts, its technological ad­van­cements will be a crucial enabler in fulfilling its ambitions of becoming a $20 trillion economy. As we reflect on the past 25 years of India’s port story in this special commemorative edition and look to the next 25, it be­co­mes evident that the transformation of India’s maritime sector will be driven as much by the creation of phy­sical assets as by the development of digital assets. The sector is witnessing a transition as technology intertwines with physical systems, and hybrid solutions will be the torch bearer of innovation and efficiency.