Abhishek Mishra is a Business Analyst with almost two-decade experience in leading container freight Stations/ Container Yards as well as inland container depots. He drives the team to devise solutions and customization as per the requirement of the projects. In this discussion, he is talking about port community system, their evolution and how it is simplifying trade for small and medium players.
Q1. The changes the maritime industry experienced in 2020 promised to reshape the industry. The record volumes and container congestions at the ports continue driving interest in digitization. How do you think Port Community System (PCS) brings not only visibility to the stakeholders but helps in the decongestion of the ports?
The pandemic has played a crucial role in bringing in the importance of maritime transport to the fore for the continued delivery of critical supplies and global trade in times of crisis. They underscored the need for ships to meet international requirements, for the ports to remain open for shipping and intermodal transport operations. The changes: the maritime industry experienced in 2020 promise to shape the sector in the near future. It started with demand plummeting as countries globally implemented lockdowns to halt the spread of COVID-19. The demand recovered as consumers ramped up online shopping. At the beginning of 2020, the total world fleet amounted to 98,140 commercial ships of 100 gross tons and above, equivalent to a capacity of 2.06 billion dwt.
A Port Community System handles electronic communication in ports between the private transport operators (shipping lines, agents, freight forwarders, stevedores, terminals, and depots), the private hinterland (pre-and on-carriage by road, rail and inland waterways), the importers, and exporters, the port authorities, Customs, and other authorities. Container congestion at ports is the new normal today. Vessel and truck congestion at the port is a result of disparate manual operations. The port community system’s emergence into the maritime industry is only emblematic of how gravely the industry needs technological current to hit its shores. Port Community System is a strong, unified system that creates better connectivity and visibility, enhancing the management of ships at ports.
Q2. Port Community Systems have been in existence for more than a decade. How have they evolved over the years?
Ports are natural bottlenecks in the transport chain, yet they are logical places to carry out customs controls. Port Community Systems have played a critical role in facilitating the more efficient movement of goods while allowing Customs and other government departments to maintain essential controls. At a period when traditional architectures have a comparatively slower information creation process, the advent of PCS marks the evolution of a true digital ecosystem. Historically and traditionally, Port Community System is there to serve its community stakeholders with electronic services for facilitating data communication and information exchange in the domain of supply chain and transport logistics.”
The system used in Felixstowe, originally FCP80, changed its name in 1990 to FCPS (the Felixstowe Cargo Processing System). By 2002, the FCPS Community system was processing some 70%-plus of containerized trade through UK ports and a significant proportion of the country’s general cargo. Although very efficient and effective, FCPS was based on technology that was rapidly becoming obsolete. In late 2002, it was upgraded to the latest technology.
To summarise, the experience at many ports worldwide has shown the significant gains made by developing port community systems. Such systems reduce the overall amount of clerical work by providing a means of capturing information once and allowing controlled access by all appropriate members of the port community. Wasted effort is avoided because duplication of entry and storage of data is reduced to a minimum. The time required to release cargoes is reduced because the necessary information is instantly available to those who need it.
The goals and objectives haven’t changed over a period of time, but due to the rapidly changing technology, the way it offers the services, and the way its implemented within a Port Community System is changing quickly. Such systems are more and more evolving in true digital ecosystems.
Q3. Port Community Systems are now a global buzzword. What are some initiatives from global bodies like the UN, IMO, IPCSA, and others to set the pace of digitization in the maritime sector?
Several organizations worldwide, such as UNCTAD, UNECE, WCO, WTO, and IMO are the champions of accelerated digitalization of cross-border processes and documentation. The objectives have been to not only keep trade flowing in current and future events, but also protect frontline workers at sea and on land while enabling remote working, with the help of contactless electronic solutions replacing paper documents. Unfortunately, as of November 2020, only 49 of the 174 member states of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) possess functioning port community systems with higher income countries making up the majority of those that do have port community systems in place. The delay in introduction poses a risk to the business continuity during subsequent waves of the pandemic, along with a further risk over a slightly longer period, which would result from the development of a two-tier system, with laggards facing increased costs for the import and export of merchandise trade.
Q4. How do you think Port Community System can play a critical role in simplifying trade for small and medium ports?
Although the principles of Port Community Systems are the same for every size of port, small and medium sized ports may have different drivers and varying levels of financial resources available to operate a PCS – so while the larger ports enable operations through digitalisation, other ports often question where they should start and whether it is appropriate for them to implement a PCS. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and the “Call for Action” for ports to fast-forward their role as digital nodes in the supply chain, small and medium sized ports were considering, developing, implementing and, in some cases, already operating Port Community Systems.
In response to this uncertainty, IPCSA has created a simple set of guidelines to help small and medium sized ports to consider PCS implementation and how to go about it. These guidelines are designed to help small and medium sized ports assess their readiness for the development and implementation of a PCS, providing a broad outline to enable organisations to understand the steps involved in building a successful PCS. The guidelines should be seen as a supporting document to give some direction in the digitalisation of your port environment.