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TIC4.0 – Standards: Why are standards in the port and terminal industry helping small ports?

Port terminal with crane in the foreground in good weather.

The port and terminal industry is going for more integration and automation across various levels of the processes. Due to this the terminal industry is striving for more standards and does that in different initiatives such as the Terminal Industry Committee 4.0 (TIC4.0), “Port Call Optimization” or others. Often standards don’t need to be reinvented because there are some existing standards in the industry such as IMDG, BIC or ISO. But these are often too little process oriented to help with the integration and digitization. Therefore, the initiatives put these standards and new definitions in a process-oriented context. These standards are meant defining industry wide standards and therefore are required to drive forward the integration, digitization and automation on various levels more efficiently.

Benefits for small ports from port industry standards

Earlier this year I spoke at an online conference at Connect2SmallPorts project (C2SP) which is an EU funded initiative to push digitization for small ports and terminals in the Southern Baltic Sea. After discussing and being in contact with this project, the question came up: Are small ports and terminals benefiting from standards or is this only something for big ports or terminals with big automation projects?


Target of port industry standards is wide

The target of standards is usually the same across an industry: limit or eliminate the need of custom implementations in interfaces, data structures or interpretation of data. The aim is to come closer to a “plug and play” solution across various implementations. This is supposed to safe both time and costs for projects. Same time it can increase the number of possible suppliers and keep the terminals more flexible on selecting their best solution. If all follow the same general standard, a market leader cannot push on his own “de-facto” standards and be the only supplier suitable on the long run. This is something we already see a lot on the consumer market where vendors try to push proprietary standards in order to have customers locked into their solution universe. Probably a very successful and know player doing this would be Apple with phones (etc.), own plugs and iTunes as a software layer (others are not acting much different). If you are bound to one technology, it is hard (and/or expensive) to get out of that universe again.

Thinking about this, general standards in our industry would probably be particularly beneficial for smaller ports and terminals that might not have the possibilities that allow own implementations of their own standards. When there is an industry standard that is widely accepted and possibly already tested in pilot concepts, these could help pushing digitization on small ports and terminals as well. With general standard such as the TIC4.0 standards in our industry, we would enable more ports and terminals to move forward with the digitization initiatives. The standards will allow a better selection of solutions and a more cost-efficient implementation. Long-term it probably would also allow a better interconnectivity between ports and terminals and the wider integration of data. Standards are an essential cornerstone of digitization for big and small ports and terminals. Seeing the initiative in C2SP and TIC4.0, this could help our industry to move forward on various levels.


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