Editorial: Navigating shipping’s digital dilemma

They are critical to Canada’s trade flow, and they are banking on COVID-19’s innovation acceleration to provide meaningful traction among all major players in their sectors.

 

Containership carriers and terminal and port operators need widespread digitization to improve their efficiency and maintain their financial viability in a highly disruptive pandemic economy.

But digitizing shipping will be massively expensive and complex.

The global supply chain, where marine cargo movement predominates, is made up of a diverse set of moving parts that are necessarily interdependent but not necessarily interconnected. They work together under a patchwork of largely incompatible systems.

That needs to change because the dramatic shifts in manufacturing, trade and technology that have occurred during the first six months of the pandemic are not going to revert to the old normal.

Major shipping companies know this.

To that end, Denmark-based Maersk, the world’s largest container shipping company, and eight other global shipping lines, including CMA CGM, Evergreen Marine, Hapag-Lloyd, Yang Ming and ZIM, formed the Digital Container Shipping Association (DCSA) in April 2019.

DCSA’s goal is to establish a standardized digital platform and a common business language for the electronic conveyance of everything from invoices, bills of lading and letters of credit to inspection certificates that complicate global shipping operations.

Over the past two and a half years, Vancouver-based Seaspan Corp., the world’s largest lessor of containerships, has also been developing proprietary software platforms to accelerate container shipping technology.

The stakes here are huge.

Without the adoption of blockchain, digital currency and standardized technology in global shipping and trade lanes, fragmentation and patchwork fixes will continue to undermine efficiency and finances.

That will drive up the cost of doing business and, inevitably, the cost of goods for consumers at the end of the supply chain.