Much has been written about ports' need to keep pace with the increasing trade demand through implementation of state-of-the-art technology. Manish Saigal explains what newfangled technology and processes are priority and why.
The cargo handling requirements at Indian ports have evolved over time where ports originally designed to manage specific cargo have adapted to manage different cargo categories. With increasing global phenomenon of larger vessels, Indian ports should adapt to the changing needs that would require deeper draft levels and mechanised cargo movement at ports.
To effectively manage various evolving port activities, which involve optimum resource utilisation supported by timely and accurate information, it is important to deploy state-of-the-art technology practices at port and community level.
State of Indian ports
Operational performance and resource utilisation (including equipment and labour handling) at Indian ports is currently not at par with those of international ports. Table 1 provides a succinct comparison of Indian and international ports, highlighting a significant scope of improvement in India.
Port operations in Indian scenario
India's port operations lag international standards, especially in adopting new technologies and practices, whether it is cargo handling, evacuation of cargo, customs clearance, tracking, hinterland connectivity, innovative logistics practices, etc. Some of the operational bottlenecks faced at Indian ports are highlighted in Figure 1.
While Indian ports face operational issues at multiple steps, some of the technology challenges faced by Indian port operators are highlighted below:
Inadequate navigational aids and facilities: Indian ports currently lack high tech surveillance systems that are used to monitor ships entering the port waters and track vessel movement. While many major ports are already equipped with Vessel Traffic Management System (VTMS), much needs to be done to implement it across all the ports in India.
Lack of modern dredging technology: Indian ports require regular maintenance dredging due to the tendency to accumulate silt. In line with global phenomenon to serve larger ships, there is a growing necessity to accommodate next generation ships. Current fleet at the state-run Dredging Corporation of India, nation's largest dredging contractor, mainly constitutes maintenance dredgers that can maintain optimum legacy levels and not deepen channels.
Lack of real-time data capture: Indian ports currently capture operational data manually which is then uploaded to centralised data servers for assess across business operations. The time lag due to multiple data handovers leads to various inefficiencies in port operations.
Limited penetration of integrated systems such as Port Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and non-ERP, Sales and Operation Planning (S&OP), Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Vessel Operation Management, Warehouse/Transport Management, etc results in ineffective utilisation of resources and operations at the port. Moreover, partial automation of the processes, voluminous paperwork and inconsistent data entries are impacting port efficiency and data-based decision making.
Partial implementation of EDI
Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), which facilitates integration of information across all members of the port community, has not been implemented seamlessly. Several Indian ports lack suitable software platform to utilise or generate EDI information.
Business processes at leading ports globally are conducted in an electronic environment, with minimal manual intervention. Due to the dynamic nature of international trade, these ports have continuously evolved their processes and successfully simplified import procedures to meet the changing demand. With globalisation and a highly competitive environment, international ports have ensured that their core function of seaport operations is highly productive and cost-effective, with a quicker turnaround time of ships. A comparative analysis of how Indian ports fare as compared to international ports in terms of technology penetration is given in Table 2.
Indian ports are moving towards the implementation of state-of-the-art technology through port level automation and centralised web-based port community system (PCS). This is likely to ensure optimum utilisation of the existing technologies such as Electronic Commerce (EC) and Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) and also make port operations paperless. Some projects initiated to improve technology standards in the ports sector include the development of the Integrated Port Management System (IPMS) by Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) and the IT Strategy & Program Management by Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT).
Automation at port level:The Ministry of Shipping under its Maritime Agenda 2020 has proposed the implementation of ERP and non-ERP solutions at all ports to ensure seamless integration across all functional areas. Solutions should be developed and integrated with ERP systems for those functional areas where ERP solutions are not readily available. While some Indian ports have already implemented ERP solutions along with Port operating system and other non-ERP solutions, the need of the hour is the implementation of a complete application suite that ensures linkage with centralised systems. Ports should develop a centralised system that integrates all sophisticated systems in all-inclusive way, thereby enhancing port performance and enabling quick decision making for all authorities.
Automation at community level: Centralised web-based port community system that integrates electronic flow of information between Indian ports and other stakeholders such as shipping lines, agents, importers/exporters, government agencies, etc should be implemented at all major and non-major ports to reap maximum benefits of EC/EDI and to move towards a paperless regime.
International ports that have implemented this system have experienced significant gains not only in their operational cost and productivity but also in their throughput capacity, service levels, customer focus, and security levels. The system should be implemented through a secure and personalised web browser that would save time and money and improve the speed of the services by introducing technologies for track and trace and shipment/service visibility.
According to the Indian Ports Association, all Indian ports have gone live for EDI messages related to vessel, container, cargo, transport, Mercantile Marine Department (MMD), e-payment, and finance. Non-major ports such as Mundra, Dahej, Pipavav, Cuddalore at Chennai, Krishnapatnam and Kakinada have been integrated with PCS.
With an aim to seamlessly integrate all members of the port community and to provide an electronic platform to act as a single window to exchange messages, some technology solutions that Indian ports should consider going forward are given in Table 3. At community level: To effectively realise the benefits of above various technology solutions, it is important that government authorities and industry stakeholders drive a comprehensive policy framework that standardises the electronic information exchange format across community users as well as among international ports.
To ensure transition to the electronic format at cross-community level, government authorities such as Ministry of Railways, Central Board of Excise and Customs, etc should take concerted efforts in adopting EDI into their processes and systems. Moreover, policy framework for EHS management should be developed to ensure adherence with global standards.
As Indian ports adopt new technology and practices to improve their operational efficiency, it is important that all community stakeholders make concerted efforts to transform Indian ports into truly world-class technology-driven ports. With India's contribution to the world trade increasing considerably, ports must keep pace with the increasing trade demand through implementation of state-of-the-art technology. This would ensure effective communication, cost optimisation, productivity gains and adequate utilisation of port infrastructure, thereby improving port operators' net profit.