Editorial / 07 Feb 2023

Climbing the digital ladder

In recent years, supply chains have suffered unprecedented disruptions. Massive backlogs and delays have become commonplace in even the most cordial ports.

In response, the port industry is accelerating its pace of digital transformation across key segments such as ocean freight, shipping terminals, storage facilities and logistics for a more seamless movement of goods.

As with any change, supply chain stakeholders face issues relating to infrastructure funding, technological development and understanding of the necessary solutions when ports undergo digital transformation. But, more importantly, it also brings opportunities to improve efficiency, productivity, speed, control and visibility.


To simplify the implementation of new technology, ports can use technologies being developed by other maritime firms, drawing on their expertise and understanding of terminal operations worldwide.

Digital ports on top
It is therefore no surprise that terminals that have been significantly upgraded digitally topped the World Bank and S&P Global Market Intelligence's 2021 Container Port Performance Index. Four out of the five best-performing ports were in the Middle East.

What’s more, they also scored well in factors relating to heavy volume growth and service volatility created by the global pandemic.

King Abdullah Port, which GAC works extensively with, took the top spot after increasing its container volume by 31% in 2021. To drive efficient operations at the port, it had already implemented a Smart Gate System that automates security functions and a fully-integrated Port Community System that facilitate intelligent and secure exchange of information among shippers, agents, operators, authorities and government entities.

Other major ports have integrated digital tools to streamline operations. In Europe, the Rotterdam Port Authority partnered with software supplier Airwayz to build a U-Space Airspace prototype to manage and monitor drones operating in its airspace. Designed to improve drone traffic control capabilities and make the terminal safer and more efficient, the prototype programme will play a key role in the Netherlands and the rest of Europe when it finishes in 2024.

In Singapore, the Maritime Port Authority introduced the digitalOCEANSTM initiative to develop and promote open and common data standards and application programming interfaces with ports and shipping-related platforms. It is designed to reduce repetitive and manual completion of forms at ports along trade routes, thereby improving efficiencies in port clearances.

Staying relevant
As ports become more technologically-driven, supply chain stakeholders must also embrace digitalisation to stay relevant and competitive.

With this in mind, GAC is implementing digital features to its service infrastructure to ensure our services to our customers worldwide remain at the forefront.

But Martin Wallgren, the Group’s Chief Information Officer, warns that it is more than just a matter of introducing new software: “We cannot just say ‘let’s go digital’. We are just one part of a big system that involves government regulations, port regulations, insurance companies, and so on. We need to think about human and machine in tandem, considering change management and the psychology behind how to make people adapt.

“Just providing a digital tool without considering the human element adds little or no value.”

GAC has long recognised the need to digitalise and has invested time and money into a ensuring a smooth transition, including user consultation and training, for its systems and its people. In 2021, it soft-launched its Pegasus portal to provide large international customers with real-time information about port infrastructure, services, mishaps, accidents, delays and turnaround times.

With access to data on 220,000 vessels and ports around the world, customers can predict port congestion, pick the best routes and make informed voyage decisions based on efficiency, time and financial considerations even before booking shipping services.

To enhance data quality, GAC is using digital documents, such as automated data scanning of passports for crew changes, to streamline processes, reduce errors caused by manual data entry, minimise delays and improve compliance with regulations.

These digitalisation services add to the support we already provide to shipping and logistics companies as they strive to succeed in a volatile and highly competitive market.

Universal progress
Expanding digitalisation gives staff more hands-off tools to raise their work efficiency. Further, workforce training and reskilling opportunities unlocked by technological advancements can increase productivity.

Businessman touching virtual screen digital transformation wording icons business technology information innovation concept

Technology is key for safer and more resilient supply chains, and the creation of a robust digital ecosystem significantly streamlines operations and improves transparency. Data can also be exchanged more effectively when all supply chain stakeholders work towards digitalisation.

It is thus crucial - not just for ports but also stakeholders involved in cargo handling, clearance agencies and transport networks - to work cohesively and tap into technology to create greater efficiency and secure trade from further disruptions.

Latest Insights