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Communication, connectivity, and visibility are rapidly evolving, and there is no doubt that technology has helped to streamline and hasten all processes in the movement of goods. As major market players fully commit to digitising their operations, there is now a fundamental shift in how the digitisation of the industry can play a vital role in global trade facilitation.
As this digital journey is accelerated and necessitated by the events of 2020, the discussion now starts to evolve to how the industry can truly capitalise rapid development and adoption by establishing both the required commonly agreed industry standards and cargo handling language.
With the International Port Community Systems Association (IPCSA) celebrating its 10-year anniversary this year, TOC Digital sat down with its Secretary-General Richard Morton to discuss how the association has been able grow over the past decade, its importance within industry today and how the industry might look to reshape its objectives going forward in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Q: Congratulations on IPCSA reaching its 10-year anniversary this year; why has IPCSA been so successful and able to maintain its longevity over the past decade?
“Back in 2011, with many European maritime-related policymakers seemingly intent on ‘reinventing the wheel’ as they considered digital topics and projects, it became obvious that Port Community Systems needed a strong, collective voice to tell their story and explain the essential role they play at the heart of port and logistics operations.
There were six founding members at our launch in Brussels. Today we have nearly 50 members from all regions of the world, and our influence and status is truly international. Our membership now includes Port Community System, Cargo/Air Community System and Single Window operators, as well as Port Authorities.
Our strength as an association is based on the willingness of members to share their experience and knowledge; our international reputation as the ‘go-to’ authority on the electronic exchange of information, standards and harmonisation; our record as a lobbying organisation supporting our members’ interests; and on our members’ status as neutral, trusted third parties enabling the swift exchange of information required for the smooth flow of cargo.”
Q: Why is an association like IPCSA needed today?
“From a worrying lack of recognition of Port Community Systems ten years ago, IPCSA has reached a position where there is an international awareness and understanding of Port Community Systems, Cargo Community Systems and Single Windows. That, however, is no reason to stop in our mission! There is a constant need to tell our story, to remind policymakers and others of our role.
Today IPCSA is a recognised NGO with consultative status at the IMO and UNECOSOC. We work closely with UN/CEFACT, the World Customs Organization, the World Economic Forum, the World Trade Organization, the ISO and several other international bodies. We explain the need for standards and harmonisation – not just technology for its own sake.
IPCSA is valued for providing advice on the electronic exchange of information across borders and through the whole supply chain. Our primary focus is always on our members, and on providing support to new and developing Port Community Systems. For example, we produced a best practice guide for building a Port Community System, specifically aimed at small and medium-sized ports.”
Q: As the world slowly returns to physical and economic normality after Covid-19, will the objectives of IPCSA evolve as a result of the changing physical environment in which we now live?
“Last year, IPCSA was one of a group of maritime industry organisations that issued ‘Call to Action’ regarding digitalisation, especially in light of the pandemic. Covid-19 has focused minds on digitalisation, as more people understand the value of paperless transactions and efficient information exchange. Digitalisation has enabled remote working and social distancing, and reduced the risk of transmitting the virus via paper.
Another outcome of the pandemic has been huge growth in online shopping. E-commerce was the focus of IPCSA’s last physical gathering before the Covid lockdowns in Europe. At a two-day meeting hosted by the World Economic Forum, we discussed The Future of Cross Border Digital Trade. Topics included new values, new technology, new rules, new ways of working, the impact of climate change, the push for decarbonisation and the role of digital systems and solutions in all of this.
The pandemic has illustrated just how essential shipping, ports and logistics are to all of us. Keeping cargoes flowing seamlessly depends on keeping the digital documentation flowing too.”
Q: You have stated before that the technological aspect is only part of the challenge facing Port Community Systems – can you speak further about what the other challenges are?
“The biggest challenge of developing and implementing a Port Community System, Cargo Community System or Single Window project is not the technology, but the people. It can be really challenging to get all the stakeholders – some of whom may be in competition with each other – around the table together, and to encourage them to share a platform and share information.
It is important to explain to stakeholders the role of such trusted neutral operators/platforms, as the hub through which they can securely provide and receive the information that is relevant to them. The reward? Dramatic savings in time and money, the elimination of mountains of paper and associated bottlenecks, and increased efficiency at every level, making a port (or group of ports) more attractive. Port Authorities often have a central coordination/communication role here, which is one of the reasons why IPCSA welcomes Port Authorities as its members too.
There is another dimension – standards and harmonisation. After a one-year transition, the standards specialist group PROTECT was integrated into IPCSA on 1 January this year, consolidating an unrivalled level of knowledge and experience in standardised and harmonised electronic information exchange.”
Q: Where is IPCSA heading next?
“We are constantly looking for areas and issues where we can really help our members and the wider supply chain. Recent projects have included our IPCSA blockchain Bill of Lading project, led by Gadi Benmoshe at Israel Ports Company and the development of our Network of Trusted Networks (NoTN), a secure port-to-port and cross-border data exchange solution for supply chains.
Following the integration of PROTECT, we will drive forward innovations and advances in the sector – supporting international standards, including in the delivery of Just-In-Time [ship arrival] APIs and data through international standards bodies, and the push for harmonisation of standards.
Port Community Systems, Cargo Community Systems, Single Windows and Port Authorities themselves will continue to evolve and find new ways to add value; IPCSA will keep explaining their role in streamlining and modernising port/airport economies and the supply chain.
Of course, everyone talks incessantly about digitalisation! But we will always believe in digitalisation with a purpose. For IPCSA and its members, it is all about bringing value, improving processes and, above all, retaining our status as trusted, neutral third parties.”
Richard Morton will be speaking at the TOC Global Showcase on Tuesday 1st June at 14:00 where he will be joining Bogdan Oldakowski, Secretary General, Baltic Ports Organization, Ørnulf Jan Rødseth, Senior Scientist, SINTEF Ocean and Niels Nuyens, Program Director, Digital Container Shipping Association (DCSA) for our session on Standards, and will be speaking about the basic requirements for electronic data exchange.
To find out more and to register for TOC Global Showcase which runs from 31 May – 18 June 2021, visit the website here