By Tom Peters
The Port of Halifax, through the Halifax Port Authority (HPA), is evolving in the digital world. It’s a process that has been ongoing for several years, says Lane Farguson, HPA’s Manager, Media Relations and Communications.
“We have been working on becoming a digital port for more than a few years,” he says. “When we started our initial infrastructure planning process quite a few years ago, we realized then that there was going to be a big shift, not just with the physical infrastructure but with our digital assets as well,” he said, and the HPA took steps at that time “to not only make an infrastructure plan but we also started looking at what steps to we needed to be taking to cover the same thing on the digital front. Over time we have done a lot of different things. We started small but they are all tied together,” he said.
In an interview, Farguson referenced some of the digital projects the HPA has undertaken such as updating the port’s website which cleared the way for the introduction of the Port Operations Centre.
The Port Operations Centre became the digital location for the truck traffic monitoring system on the HPA’s website. There was also early adoption of the IBM-Maersk TradeLens platform and its blockchain component. The HPA’s involvement in the TradeLens digital global shipping platform was a significant move in the digital process.
The goal of TradeLens is to develop a highly secure digital ledger system incorporating several aspects of the industry, that promotes the sharing of information across the global shipping industry which can reduce costs, improve productivity, increase the speed of the delivery of goods, and provide transparency. The Maersk-IBM blockchain will enable the needed safety and security for the digital platform, says a release.
The platform will reduce paperwork with a digital process for documents, offering the potential for significant economic efficiency and improved security. This technology can reduce the need for multiple records and documents that are produced at each point in the supply chain.
Derrick Whalen, the HPA’s Director of Information & Technology Services, says the HPA, “is in a very good place with TradeLens. It was a good decision to be involved with TradeLens and get in with the big players.”
Earlier this year the HPA carried out an exercise that involved engaging the TradeLens platform. Whalen said the exercise dealt with many questions: Can we access the TradeLens platform? Can we subscribe to it? Can we look at the data that is there? Can we pull that data down and use it as a database? Can we attach business intelligence tools?
“We came through the process quite pleased with the potential, and quite pleased we could access the data and work with it,” he said, adding the next step is to utilize those concepts within the global supply chain. He said the important part of this process is really about governance. “It is establishing some global rules around data standards and data quality.” He said it is important that the major players get together to discuss data standards because the rules of engagement are necessary to enable the TradeLens platform to be what it can be. “Technology is one component, but governance is also vital,” he said.
The latest digital application added to the HPA’s Port Operations Centre site is the Vessel Forecast Summary (VFS) which provides additional visibility on expected container vessel arrival times. Cargo owners and port service providers including terminal operators, pilots, tug operators, truckers and CN Rail now have access to an accurate estimate of container vessel arrivals at the port, the HPA said in a release.
The application is powered by eeSea, a Copenhagen-based leader in global vessel forecasting. All container vessels serving the port are covered by the application which shows a vessel’s pro forma arrival date, an eeSea-estimated arrival date and any difference between the two which is listed in hours and minutes. Anyone can track an inbound vessel up to 30 days prior to scheduled arrival at Halifax, the release said.
As the digital strategy grows at the port “one of best places to see it coming together is the Port Operations Centre,” said Farguson. “It has been evolving over time and will continue to evolve. We hope and believe it will become the communication’s hub for our customers and stakeholders to find out information about their cargo, about vessel calls and about the port in general, and make it very easy for them to grab that information and use it. It’s one thing to make information available but how useful is it? We just feel the more we can move into the digital space and provide information the more useful for everyone,” he said.