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Taking connectivity to the next level

The Singapore maritime industry is harnessing digitalisation to increase visibility and competitiveness as lines are increasingly blurred across the shipping and logistics sectors.

PSA's Automated Crane Operations Centre monitors the operations of nearly 200 automated yard cranes in Pasir Panjang Terminal.

SINGAPORE is one of the most connected cities in the world with world class infrastructure. But the Republic cannot rest on its laurels. This is because today connectivity is no longer just about physical accessibility, it is also about building a more inter-connected and vibrant network to be an efficient node for maritime business activities and information flows.

Digitalisation is transforming the maritime industry in a dramatic way as lines are increasingly blurred across the shipping and logistics sectors. This means that the industry must now take on a more holistic view and not just look at shipping, but also logistics and commodities. This will further enhance a diverse, robust maritime ecosystem that is unique to Singapore, and thus give it a competitive edge.

The buzz word at PSA is connectivity. As a global port operator, its container terminals serve as key gateways to vast markets and hinterlands, connecting goods and materials to consumers and manufacturers around the world.

"Connectivity, however, has begun to take on a wider definition since the advent of digitalisation. One of the key challenges we face now is harnessing its potential to increase visibility and enhance the accuracy and authenticity of data flows across the global supply chain," says Tan Chong Meng, group CEO of PSA International Pte Ltd.

"It has become business unusual for all of us in the maritime industry, as we can no longer continue down the beaten path, but need to look outside of our traditional spheres and reassess our opportunities and risks. Beyond consolidation and integration, there is a pressing need for players in the maritime industry to find common ground on which we can better collaborate in order to uplift the industry and keep pace with the rapid changes," he adds.

Mr Tan says that the Singapore Maritime Week helps to showcase Singapore as a global hub port and leading international maritime centre. It also offers a good opportunity for the industry to network, share knowledge and drum up interest in the maritime industry for the general public.

As part of its efforts to secure Singapore's position as a global hub port, PSA has established joint venture terminals with some of the world's leading shipping lines including Cosco, CMA CGM, MSC and PIL.

"Many of them base their regional HQs in Singapore not only because of the presence of their business activities here, but also because of what Singapore offers as one of the leading maritime capitals of the world," says Mr Tan.

"Our reputation for integrity, efficiency, reliability and responsiveness to change, coupled with a pro-business environment, makes it highly conducive for maritime companies to set up shop here," he adds.

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), which has been tasked to develop Singapore as a premier global hub port and international maritime centre (IMC), says that connectivity needs to be strengthened by including non-physical connectivity like information and financial flows.

"As a global port, Singapore has built a network of physical connectivity linking us to more than 600 ports. However, for Singapore to remain a key node in global trade in the face of increasing competition, we will need to strengthen our connectivity beyond physical connectivity to include non-physical connectivity such as information and financial flows," says Tan Beng Tee, assistant chief executive (development), MPA.

Non-physical connectivity also refers to deepening the linkages within the maritime cluster and to adjacent sectors such as commodity trading. This holistic approach will help strengthen the value propositions offered by Singapore as a global hub port and IMC, she adds.

Among the significant new developments in the maritime industry is the blurring of boundaries between the shipping and logistics sectors. The digital disruption has transformed many industries and at the same time created cross-sector collaboration opportunities. For example, Maersk, CMA CGM and Zim have formed partnerships with e-commerce players like Alibaba to open up new business streams to enable direct online booking of vessel space for their customers.

"As part of the Sea Transport Industry Transformation Map, the MPA, Singapore Customs and Singapore Shipping Association are jointly exploring possible digitalisation of trade and maritime documentation in the industry to co-develop cross-sector solutions," says Ms Tan.

"We will no longer be able to confine our focus to just the maritime sector but will have to collaborate with strategic partners to look at how to enhance the role that Singapore plays in the wider supply chain ecosystem."

Ms Tan says MPA's long-term plan is to consolidate port operations at Tuas which, when fully operational, will be capable of handling up to 65 million TEUs. "Beyond ramping up our future port capacity to serve the needs of the maritime community, Tuas port is envisaged to be an intelligent and efficient port that continues to deliver best in class service."

Automation, robotics and state of the art container handling equipment and IT systems such as advanced equipment to automate yard and wharf operations will be deployed. In addition, data analytics to optimise operations such as just in time vessel arrivals as well as the Maritime Single Window which minimises data entry for faster port clearance will be used.

Some existing collaborations include an MOU with the Research Council of Norway and exchange programmes between Singapore's institutes of higher learning and those in Norway and Denmark to foster cross learning and greater exposure.

Looking ahead, says Ms Tan: "To enhance Singapore's long term competitiveness, we will need to attract and grow business functions in the areas of business intelligence, research and development, and data and innovation hubs as these can help drive non-physical flows. For example, we are working with industry players to establish vessel operations and monitoring centres in Singapore. We also support the industry in undertaking digital business analytics from Singapore."

By managing data and information here, it will lead to more optimised business operations and help drive better strategic decision-making for these international shipping groups. Singapore will also need to bolster its inter-linkages with adjacent sectors such as commodity trading and logistics to harness synergies from physical and non-physical trade flows.

"MPA is working with the Singapore Exchange, the Baltic Exchange and relevant government agencies to explore opportunities to build up Singapore's freight derivatives market and strengthen Singapore's role as a global risk management hub," says Ms Tan.

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