Digital Container Shipping Association Starts Knocking Down Silos

The Digital Container Shipping Association (DCSA) has released its first standards for data flows – an important first step in the process of ending the fragmentation that is holding back the development of digital technologies in the industry.

In an announcement at the beginning of September, the DCSA, which was only officially established in April this year, launched what it has called an “Industry Blueprint” that sets out current standards for the processes used in container shipping. The aim is that carriers will align to it when delivering “digitalisation and standardisation initiatives in the industry in the future”. The Blueprint includes a glossary of terms, a process catalogue and process maps for three types of journeys – shipment, equipment and vessel.

The DCSA now comprises AP Moller-Maersk, Hapag-Lloyd, MSC, ONE and CMA-CGM as well as (pending regulatory approval) Evergreen Line, Hyundai Merchant Marine, Yang Ming Marine Transport Corporation and ZIM Integrated Services. This means that it now represents 70% of the market, so it has a significant voice.

A Welcome Move

This process is long overdue and certainly one that ORBCOMM customers will welcome. Although the digitalisation of the maritime and intermodal industries is progressing fast, as we set out in a previous blog, there are concerns at the moment that companies are not getting the right benefits for sharing their data and that too many products are siloed. André Simha global chief information officer at MSC and now chairman of the supervisory board at DCSA, has said that these siloes lead to “frustration and more bureaucracy for customers and other collaboration partners”. On a practical level, it also makes it harder to future proof these products in a fast-moving industry.

This cannot last. After the launch of the Industry Blueprint, Simha expanded his thinking in a post on LinkedIn, explaining that technology has made doing business in the B2C sphere simpler than ever, with “seamless and intuitive services”. But when those consumers turn up to work, “our systems seem outdated at best and defunct at worst”. Customers now expect complete visibility of the location and status of their shipments so that they can plan and allocate resources efficiently. They will not accept being kept in the dark because data cannot easily flow between products. It’s no good going from dark, dumb and disconnected to smart and visible if that visibility is then restricted to a select group. The way forward is clear, developing in a more open and collaborative manner will streamline processes for regulators, port authorities, shipping lines and other industry participants.

Breaking Down the Silos

As a business that is driven by customer demand, ORBCOMM has always ensured that interoperability and openness lie at the heart of our products. For example, VesselConnect – ORBCOMM’s comprehensive solution for monitoring reefers at sea – creates a wireless network on a ship that enables the seamless transmission of real-time container data. The system does not require connection to a land-based cellular network and can integrate with satellite data, allowing reefer data to be sent to the shipping company’s back-office applications. These simple infrastructure and hardware requirements mean that the system can integrate with AIS vessel data and vessel stowage plans as well as data from other telemetry system and wireless technologies.

In addition, the new CT 3000 series, the next generation of ORBCOMM’s refrigerated container telematics devices, are small, quick to install and, crucially, give ocean carriers, inland barge operators, ports, depots, 3Ps and other members of the industry the ability to monitor containers and shipments that they do not directly own or control. These are just two examples of how agnostic products need to be able to integrate data from many different sources and to work not only for containers and vessels, but also trailers, chassis, gensets and truck units. Tech suppliers need to integrate to meet the needs of customers and the wider supply chain.

A New Ecosystem

As the hardware behind IoT and telematics becomes mature, the focus must now shift to the best ways to present this data to all stakeholders, combining and integrating datastreams across all platforms and enterprise software. In effect, we need a system of systems – a way of ensuring that, although no one platform dominates, there is an ecosystem that allows users to integrate multiple smart devices and suppliers. This will require a new kind of DeviceCloud middleware that can channel data from any device into any enterprise software.

Standardisation can be a long and difficult process, so the DCSA should be applauded for moving so quickly with this blueprint. They were driven by the knowledge that, as Simha has said, the container shipping industry as being “at a fairly low start of digitalisation,” which most would describe as an understatement.

In doing so, they have thrown down the gauntlet not just to themselves, but to the rest of the industry to get on board and develop a proper digital container shipping ecosystem. We need to respond with an industry-wide commitment. This will require companies with scale, scope and strategic insight born of long experience developing digital products in an open manner to step forward. Challenge accepted!

The ORBCOMM team will be at Cool Logistics in Valencia from 17-19 September to discuss the next phase of IoT in digital container shipping with fellow technology companies, ocean carriers, shippers and other members of the cold supply chain.

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