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How to create a competitive and resilient port

How to create a competitive and resilient port


By David Yeo, CEO & Founder, Innovez One

A perfect storm is brewing. Port volumes in Asia are increasing; it was recently reported that The Port of Singapore’s cargo volume had increased by 4.6% in the first 5 months of 2021 (Ministry of Transport, Singapore). Meanwhile, an outbreak of Covid-19 at Yantian Port, one of China’s busiest ports, is wreaking havoc on global supply chains. CMA CGM Chief Executive, Rodolphe Saadé, recently said that he expects another nine months of disruption before a return to normality (Lloyd’s List). These so-called ‘black swan’ events (infrequently, but highly impactful incidents) are highlighting that the first and last mile of a journey at sea is a weak link in the global supply chain. But what if black swan events, such as a virus outbreak, didn’t lead to costly delays and disruption? Or what if the damage could at least be mitigated?

It can, an effective digital port management solution framework can improve the resilience and efficiency of supply chains. To increase competitiveness and resilience, ports must embrace digitalisation, bridge the digital divide, and truly understand how ‘deep technology’ applies to the port sector and is already being used in real-world situations.


Black swan events are highlighting that global supply chains are full of chokepoints, particularly in the port sector, and if one link in the multimodal supply chain is weak, it hinders the strength of the entire chain. Many otherwise ‘smart’ ports in Southeast Asia are being let down when it comes to their operations, which still rely on paper-based systems to organise and plan jobs for tug, pilot and supply vessels. In fact, of the 4,900 commercial ports in the world, we estimate that 80% are missing out on the benefits of digitalisation. They still use manual, legacy solutions such as whiteboards or spreadsheets to manage critical marine services such as towage, pilotage, and launch boats, which leads to a range of inefficiencies in ordering, execution, and billing, and the port is still behind its GSO objective.

Meanwhile, an overreliance on person-to-person interactions, rather than built-in systems and processes, leaves these ports vulnerable to events that restrict worker’s routines, as the last year has demonstrated. Effective port management solutions improve efficiency using personnel and give them the tools to improve decision making and minimise disruption. Innovez One’s marineM, for example, is founded on the principle of collaboration and augmentation with the users.

Even those adopting new technology are often caught on both sides of the divide. They are combining high-tech digital processes with paper-based processes, which causes interoperability challenges. Systems are not talking effectively to each other, which means data is not synchronized, ultimately causing delays. All actors in the supply chain must be able to be interoperable and communicate with each other if we are to optimize how cargo moves around the world. So, why haven’t the majority of ports embraced digitalisation yet, and leveraged the huge strategic benefits that it delivers? Historically, port management software has been the preserve of only a few, primarily large ‘Tier 1’ ports that have the profile and financial muscle to invest. This has created a polarised landscape within the global port sector.

However, with the market maturing, the reality is that affordable, proven technology and services, that can be provided over the cloud, exist. They offer a fast return on investment and are readily available right now. There is no reason why every port cannot start its journey to become a smart port; digitalisation can be for the many, not the few.


Demystifying deep technology plays a crucial role in encouraging its adoption. So, what is deep technology? According to TechCrunch, ‘Deep Technology’ is “a generic term for technologies not focused on end-user services that include artificial intelligence, robotics, blockchain, advanced material science, photonics and electronics, biotech and quantum computing.” It has been “an identified category for investment as long as the tech industry itself.” The difference between deep tech and general tech is significant. The catch-all term of ‘tech’ mostly refers to e-commerce, where the innovation is in business models, but not necessarily technology. Deep tech is based on looking at and understanding the algorithms on which these business models are built and making them better – taking them from 80% to 90% accuracy, for example.

Looking at the deep tech categories identified, shipping is already using many of the technologies represented – blockchain, AI, drones, and robotics, for example. However, the true potential of this tech is yet to be realised. The potential for deep technology in the maritime industry cannot be overstated. However, a lot of key data remains stuck in excel spreadsheets, often on old versions of Windows. Pulling and disseminating information out of whiteboards and spreadsheets – and into the digital space – will unlock this huge potential

Improving efficiency, berth handling, and the overall shape of maritime planning and resource utilization is a huge commercial opportunity for ports and their customers around the world. The challenge of managing the large number of factors at play is like solving multiple Rubik’s Cubes simultaneously. This is why investment in deep tech, machine learning, and AI is so vital.

Any ports that are adopting digitalisation based on their strategic business objectives are laying solid technological foundations for deep technology as it continues to advance. To future-proof is to design something, so that it can still be used in the future, even when technology changes. These ports are truly future proofing their operations and will remain competitive as the maritime industry evolves. Port management stakeholders must take more strategic investment decisions that meet the current and future strategic needs of shipping lines.


Workboat operations are very fast, volatile, and unpredictable. Therefore, machine learning is the ideal solution when it comes to organising their operations. It allows users to identify patterns in vessel behaviour, giving more predictability to operators who can then plan accordingly. In practice, this means that your software can automatically recognise patterns and then can adjust programs accordingly – similar to how software like PowerPoint can give you suggestions for layout based on existing elements and how they most effectively fit together.

Innovez One has designed and engineered its proprietary software, marineM, to be versatile and solve a range of ‘first and last mile’ challenges. marineM is an AI-powered platform for managing seaports and nautical services operators’ entire operations. For example, the platform provides port management information systems and port management software that links together each stage of the towage and pilotage chain, covering job management, planning & dispatch, tracking & monitoring and billing. Together, it provides an ecosystem that integrates the whole process, from booking berths to billing.

This revolutionises a port’s planning and management of pilotage and towage services and significantly reduces the workload for operations and billing departments. The other benefits are varied – marineM optimises berth and vessel allocations, enables real-time reporting of timings and locations, and delivers digitalised service returns to the billing engine to generate bills automatically. This creates a far more efficient, reliable and robust system for planning and allocating these valuable resources. It also saves significant amounts of fuel and maintenance costs by enabling shorter vessel journeys.

marineM is used by R W Marine Services, one of Singapore’s leading sea transportation operators, to digitalise its entire fleet operations. It uses marineM solution to streamline its ordering, vessel and job planning, real-time updating, and billing operations. R W Marine Services is now able to dispatch jobs wirelessly to mobile devices and monitor its fleet’s movements and the progress of every single job simultaneously using GPS and AIS tracking. Additionally, real-time communications between marineM users, and live operations of the fleet, boost communications in an often-siloed operating environment. The platform also provides information management systems that link together each stage of the sea transportation chain – improving R W Marine Services’ visibility of its operations.

marineM has also been used in some of Asia’s busiest ports, such as Singapore and Tanjung Priok in Indonesia, for over a decade in some cases, enabling hundreds of thousands of dollars of savings per year. In Tanjung Priok, marineM has saved $155,000 in annual fuel costs, by reducing mileage by 20%, as well as $90,000 in annual maintenance costs, and $150,000 per year in reduced incidents.

In summary, black swan events, such as an outbreak of Covid-19 in a port, frequently highlight the fragility of global supply chains, particularly in the first and last mile of a ship’s journey. There is a storm brewing as Covid-19 outbreaks and high port volumes in Asia are coinciding to cause costly delays. But there is no need to worry – for those who embrace it – deep technology is poised and ready to calm the storm.