Data Sharing (or lack thereof) is Framing Smart Port Conversation

by Matthew Wittemeier

Data. Simple word; complex concept. When I joined the maritime industry in 2016, I was amazed to see an elevated level of siloed thinking and little-to-no data sharing. These concepts were underpinned and reinforced through a lack of industry data standards and a lack of industry standard interfacing protocols. In 2017, the discussion surrounding data began and initiatives were started. This trend continued in 2018, as a foundation was set for further discussions and several more industry initiatives, which I heard lots about last week in London, at the inaugural Smart Ports Summit. Some 2.5 years since I started in maritime logistics, I can happily say we’re making progress towards an industry data standard and, hopefully towards industry standards for sharing that data.

That said, it was also very clear that even though we’re moving closer towards common definitions for maritime data, we are also moving further apart when it comes to a willingness to share that data. So, where are we at, what’s going well, what isn’t, and what should we be thinking about in 2019?

Several “Standards” are Under Development

There are several processes evolving simultaneously to actively define a data standard for the industry. Each is focusing on distinct aspects of maritime and terminal operations. At TOC Europe 2018, we heard about the work PEMA was doing to define hardware equipment standards. In London, Frank Kho presented another update on the hardware supplier driven initiative. Mikael Lind and Michael Bergmann too introduced the concept of Port Collaborative Decisions Making (PortCDM), which is more focused on the vessel and port side of the equation. It is exciting to see so many developments moving towards the goals of standards.

That said, there are some risks that we should start considering at an early phase. Will competing frameworks for standards be able to merge into a single comprehensive framework? Do they need to? Also, a question was raised in London around whether software vendors are involved in the PEMA discussions. The response was less than par: Yes, we’ve got Navis and TBA so we’re covered. Again, while having two of the larger TOS providers there is a great start, involving smaller operators early on is a smart decision.

Data Standards are One Thing, Sharing is Another

In 2038: A Smart Port Story, my co-author and I predicted that in the early 2020’s there would be a “Data War”. “During the Data War of 2020, companies battled one another over control of information –  no one wanted to share – data was seen as a commodity opposed to an enabler of innovation.”

This perspective was shared repeatedly in London, but perhaps best summarized by Michael Dooms in his case study on the PORTOPIA Project. In his presentation, he touched on the idea that once port stakeholders realized that others could see the data they had shared (even generalized, anonymous data) they became quite apprehensive about continuing to share that data.

Monica Swanson gave an insight into the Port of Rotterdam’s (PoR) collaborative port tools; specifically, PRONTO. What really amazed me was the idea that if the port could communicate to inbound vessels the actual state of the port, the vessel could better plan its speed of approach to the port and subsequently save fuel and reduce CO2 emissions.

Underpinning this initiative is the idea that to share this information, the PoR needs to collect data from various port stakeholders. Monica went on to add that getting buy-in from the various port stakeholders was a “very sensitive” process that in the end, boiled down to them agreeing to collect only the most basic timestamp data. As such, PRONTO currently only shares that a vessel is delayed and cannot share why.

Building on This in 2019

I must say, I’m looking forward to the rest of 2019, in particular the PTI: Container Terminal Automation Conference event and, of course, TOC Europe. Both events have proven to be exceptional in their turnout of key decision makers and have in past years proven to progress the data discussion in the industry. I’m hoping that the ideas around data sharing –in particular  that sharing data is not, in principle, a bad thing, but rather an advantage - can be tabled and addressed in both forums.

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About the author

  • Matthew Wittemeier

    Matthew Wittemeier is Director Marketing and Sales at INFORM's Terminal & Distribution Center Logistics Division where he’s become a thought-provoking contributor to many industry publications and conferences. He’s also co-author of the award winning 2038: A Smart Port Story - a story about the future of technology and the social challenges it may bring.

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