Changing Tide: Ports embark on a digitalisation journey

Sanjay Joglekar, Tech – nical Adviser – IT, Mumbai Port Authority

Port digitalisation is a transformative pro­cess that is reshaping the maritime in­dustry on a global scale. Ports around the world are embracing digital technologies and data-driven solutions to enhance their operations, improve efficiency, reduce environmental impacts, and stay competitive in an increasingly interconnected and fast-paced logistics landscape. It provides the foundation to achieve the vision of smart ports, which involves elements such as digital twins, big data, internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), and blockchain. Port digitalisation allows stakeholders real-time situational awareness of all events going on in their ecosystem. In the coming yea­rs, digitalisation will be a game changer, particularly for mix­ed cargo ports. Thus, it is vital for ports to em­bark on a digital journey to survive and remain competitive.

At a recent Indian Infrastructure conference on “Smart Ports in India”, Sanjay Joglekar, Tech­nical Adviser – IT, Mumbai Port Authority, shared his views on the digitalisation of ports, the key trends and developments, new technologies and challenges faced in technology adoption.

Benefits of port digitalisation

Port digitalisation is crucial for modernising the maritime industry, leading to improved operational efficiency, reduced costs, enhanced se­curity and ensuring sustainability. It also plays a vital role in meeting the evolving needs of glo­bal trade and logistics in an increasingly interconnected world.

At present, many ports operate within information silos. Digitalisation can streamline operations, reducing turnaround times for ships and cargo. It improves monitoring and communication and enhances safety for workers, vehicles and the environment. It also reduces emissions and enhances resource management, contri­bu­ting to environmental sustainability.

Smart ports are more attractive to shipping companies and can boost economic competitiveness. Ports are a major node in this supply chain. Thus, it is necessary for a port to transition into a smart port in order to digitalise the supply chain. Moreover, there is an idea of interconnectedness between smart ports.

Key trends and upcoming technologies

The future of port digitalisation promises fascinating developments and technologies that will continue to transform the maritime industry.

Key technologies are as follows:

  • 5G and edge computing: The roll-out of 5G net­works will provide ports with faster and mo­re reliable connectivity. Edge computing will en­hance processing capabilities at the ed­ge of the network, reducing data transfer times.
  • AI and machine learning (ML): AI and ML algorithms will play a significant role in optimising port operations. These tools are ma­inly used for predictive maintenance, dema­nd forecasting, route optimisation, and navigation of autonomous vessels.
  • Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and dron­es: UAVs and drones equipped with sensors and cameras will be deployed for various pur­poses in ports, including monitoring car­go, inspecting infrastructure, and assessing environmental conditions. They can provide valuable data and improve safety.
  •  Predictive analytics and big data: Advanced analytics will continue to be utilised for predictive maintenance, route optimisation, and cargo tracking. Ports rely on big data analytics to make data-driven decisions and impro­ve overall performance.
  • Smart ports and IoT Integration: The concept of smart ports will evolve, integrating various IoT devices and sensors to enhance overall port management. These sensors will monitor everything, from weather conditions to equipment health.

These technological developments will revolutionise port operations, making them more efficient, sustainable and resilient while maintaining a competitive edge in the rapidly evolving global trade and logistics landscape.

Mumbai port developments and plans

The Mumbai port has deployed various applications that are being used by employees for different projects. These applications include mobile-based estate inspection, quarter management, and identification of slums around the Mumbai Port Authority premises among others. Besides, the port has implemented an augmented reality/virtual reality training platform.

Mumbai port is also implementing en­ergy management and bidding management systems. It further plans to develop a geogra­phic information system (GIS)-based 3D G-map for real-time tracking and navigation. GIS data has been mapped with various layers, such as the sewer drain network, storm water drain network, high tension cable, and telephone and road network. This mapping has identified allocated areas for customer goods and their duration at the port.  Furthermore, the environment, health and safety application is being implemented across major ports. This application enables risk assessments and management, safety tra­i­ning and awareness, ensures regulatory comp­li­ance, improves emergency preparedness and respon­se, manages hazardous materials, monitors air and water quality and promotes continuous im­provement and auditing.

Global trends

Port digitalisation is a rapidly evolving field with several global trends shaping the way ports and the maritime industry adopt digital technologies and practices. The key global trends are as follows:

  • Smart ports: Smart ports are becoming more prevalent, integrating various digital technologies such as IoT sensors, data analytics, and automation to optimise port operations. These ports focus on efficiency, sustainability and enhancing the overall customer experience.
  • Blockchain technology: Blockchain technology is also gaining traction for enhancing tra­ns­parency and traceability in supply chains. Ports are exploring blockchain to improve cargo tracking, reduce fraud and streamline documentation processes.
  • 5G and edge computing: The roll-out of 5G networks is enabling faster and more reliable data transmission at ports. Edge computing, combined with 5G, supports real-ti­me data processing and decision-making, en­hancing port efficiency and security.
  • Digital twin technology: Globally, ports are increasingly leveraging digital twin technology to create virtual replicas of physical assets and operations. This enables improved monitoring, simulation and predictive maintena­n­ce, optimising resource allocation.
  • AI and ML: AI and ML are being used to ana­lyse vast amounts of data from sensors and other sources to predict maintenance needs, optimise logistics and enhance safety.
  • Others: Other key trends include introducing collaborative platforms, digital documentation and paperless/faceless operations, custom and trade facilitation, remote and auto­no­mous operations and data sharing and standardisation.

Best practices at the port of Rotterdam

The port of Rotterdam has significantly redu­ced waiting times for ships, leading to quicker cargo handling and turnaround times. Smart traffic management and sustainable energy initiatives have resulted in reduced emissions from ships and port operations. Further, predictive maintenance and optimised operations have lowered maintenance costs and reduced downtime.  Rotterdam’s commitment towards green energy and environmental monitoring aligns with global sustainability goals. Thus, the port’s digital tra­nsformation initiatives have given it a competitive edge on the global stage, attracting mo­re shipping and logistics business.

Key challenges and roadblocks

Every port has its unique digital transformation journey, guided by several parameters. Costs and investments in technology infrastructure, software systems and employee training are key considerations and vary from port to port. Further, many ports have older, legacy systems, and replacing or upgrading these systems can be expensive and complex.

As ports become more digital, they become more vulnerable to cyberattacks. Thus, it is necessary to have robust cybersecurity measures in place to protect sensitive data and operational systems. Port digitalisation often involves collecting and sharing a vast amount of data, making compliance with data privacy regulations a must. Port operations involve a multitude of processes. Integrating these processes into a coherent digital system can be complex.

To overcome these challenges and obstacles, successful port digitalisation projects of­ten entail careful planning, collaboration with various stakeholders, robust cybersecurity me­a­sures, ongoing training and support for the workforce, and a clear vision of how digitalisati­on will enhance the efficiency and sustainability of port operations.

The way ahead

Going forward, some of the focus areas for the Indian ports and maritime sector are green and sustainable ports, full digitalisation of the port ecosystem, strengthening port infrastructure, securing supply chain and mitigating cyber risks. Green and sustainable ports should in­cor­porate an evolving strategic roadmap to be­come carbon-neutral ports of the future, along with the development of circular ports. Further­more, the strengthening of port infrastructure involves capacity building, developing transshipment hubs, coastal development plans, infrastructure modernisation and land use planning, among others.

Port digitalisation is an ongoing journey, which requires collaboration amongst all sta­keholders including port authorities, operators, shipping companies, logistics providers and the government to fully reap the benefits. As technology continues to advance, ports th­at embrace digitalisation will be better equip­ped to address the challenges of the 21st century and remain vital hubs in the global supply chain.