The growth of e-commerce and the acceleration of global trade in the past eighteen months have exposed the inherent inefficiencies in the shipping & logistics industries. Supply chains, as a result, in all industries have been negatively impacted.

While each industry has a role to play in finding a solution, it’s a fact that the various ports in every country can move the needle significantly by simply going digital. Of course, the quantum of benefit that accrues to various stakeholders will be proportional to the efforts they put into their digitization program – but just a few simple changes can set the port on a long-term trajectory to digital maturity.

Most ports in operation today have been constructed at least twenty ago. As a result, the first thing that needs to be overhauled is the network and infrastructure. Next, one of the biggest overheads – ‘energy’ – must be optimized. The third most important thing is to revisit the several hundred manual processes at the port to see where technology can help.

Cisco works with some of the busiest ports in the world. Let’s see how they’re going digital and identify some best practices from their journey.

Transforming ports for seamless operations

The perfect port should be seamless. Shipping vessels should be welcomed to the port, steered and docked, inbound containers should be unloaded, outbound containers should be loaded, and the vessel should be refueled and sent on its way.

All of this should typically be done within hours – time of course, is money. Each snag results in a delay and delays can be detrimental, especially for perishables (especially food) which need to be unloaded and delivered to distributors on time before they begin to spoil.

Eventually, delays cause ports to lose business as business owners, exporters and importers alike, want to avoid the losses they result in.

To be honest, once a container is unloaded onto a port, there’s a whole process that must be followed, including reviewing documentation, supporting customs officers with inspections, unpacking containers and preparing consignments for onward journeys (often by truck), and so on.

Ports are busy and for good reason. They’re usually up and running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, just like airports. We’re typically used to imagining the scale of the latter in our heads rather than the former – but think of this – busy ports can have as many shipping containers move through them every day as some airports have people moving through.

That scale is an opportunity to digitize operations and drive efficiencies.

Deploying a modernized network and agile infrastructure takes a bit of planning to ensure that it not only supports existing needs but is also able to enable new-age solutions as and when they’re implemented.

Once this is done, for example, ports can then choose whether they want to tackle manpower issues by deploying smart robots; deploy IoT gateways and integrate sensors into equipment to capture real-time data about their health, performance, and so on; balance the load and optimize energy use across the port through sensors and smart algorithms, and so on.

Having a modernized network and an agile infrastructure creates many opportunities to digitize, each transforming a different workflow to ultimately create seamless operations across the port.

Journeying to become ‘smart ports’

The ultimate goal for leaders is to transition the facilities under their management into a smart port. That’s the dream. It’s a super-efficient state of being where everything runs seamlessly; all costs can be identified and charged to the right departments and further along to the right customers; and every machine and device is accounted for, repaired proactively (using predictive maintenance), and used effectively.

Becoming a smart port isn’t hard – but it’s a long journey and leaders must stay consistent.

Cisco’s customers have already achieved ‘smart port’ status and they’ll agree that there’s always more that they find can be done to improve efficiencies and get more bang for their buck. Their most important investment? Their network and infrastructure.

It’s what makes deploying those smart robots possible across the port to minimize human error as well as reduce the various health and safety risks and the several hazards that go hand in hand with handling port operations.

Ports are complex, they operate at scale, and every year, they see demand rise and need to cope up with that. Keeping the big picture in mind, when going digital, it really helps to work with technology players that have a vast portfolio and can integrate different solutions to magnify efficiencies.

One of Cisco’s clients for example worked with us to overhaul their network and infrastructure and then, when they wanted to streamline communication across the various devices and solutions they used, a move to Cisco Instant Connect made perfect sense.

Working with the length, breadth, and depth of Cisco’s portfolio also allows customers to take advantage of our incredible security offerings, protecting devices, networks, infrastructure, and entire ecosystems against threats in the digital world. The need for cybersecurity is particularly strong at ports because they’re part of the host government’s critical infrastructure and its generation and processing of commercial data makes it vulnerable to cyberthreats.

Further along the line, as they build an app to support their various critical stakeholders, Cisco’s solutions can be deployed right out of the box to seamlessly connect the app to the various devices on their network securely to ensure that there is end-to-end visibility not just across the port’s digital operations but also the application’s ecosystem to ultimately provide a delightful and dependable digital experience.

At the end of the day, going digital provides ports with the means to end any systemic challenges preventing their growth. Experts believe our supply chains will grow for many years to come – investments in a smart port will pay for itself and it’ll pay quickly.

To learn more, connect with our team or check out Cisco’s solutions for Ports and Terminal Operations here.