What New Data Exchange Mandate Means for Big Data in the Sea Trade

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In less than two years, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) will enforce a mandate for the electronic exchange of information related to cargo and shipping worldwide. Public authorities are now obligated to establish systems for the electronic exchange of information on cargo, crew, and passengers to streamline shipping procedures in and out of port.

Paper documents – long a cornerstone for the healthcare, shipping, and logistics industries – are going by the wayside as organizations turn to technology to secure data, speed up processes, automate workflows, and comply with regulations. And busy ports are no exception.

But this new mandate provides a foundation for even more long-term value: Electronic documentation can be more easily aggregated and analyzed to unlock the power of big data that paper documents never could. It’s a necessary first step in leveraging more comprehensive industry wide data insights that could improve ships’ and ports’ security, productivity, safety, and performance.

However, the need to upgrade these document exchange processes will add complexity in a business where being out of compliance could mean that cargo will stay on ships. Incorrect or questionable paperwork can cause even short delays and have a domino effect in disrupting the flow of goods – and more importantly, revenue streams – for a variety of organizations with skin in the game.

Lots of Moving Parts

The port system is a complex one involving numerous parties to get shipments from point A to point B. From the shipping company, agent, and terminal, to the hauler and rail transport provider, to the freight forwarder and the loader, to customs and port authorities, critical information must be easily exchanged throughout the entire life-cycle of every shipment. Optimal coordination of (and visibility into) shared documentation among the port system and also third-party services is critical to preventing unnecessary delays. Mandating the exchange of electronic shipping information will benefit everyone in the logistics chain when processes become more efficient and enable around-the-clock reliability necessary to power such an operation.

The benefits of the IMO electronic exchange of information mandate include:

  • Efficiency: Secure, automated distribution inside and outside the port speeds up business with fewer phone calls, fewer emails, and less reliance on paper
  • Standardization: A uniform digital infrastructure helps reliably capture the required information for general and cargo declarations
  • Auditability: A digital audit trail helps authorities understand the full life of critical customs, cargo, and shipping documents

The Data Integration Technology

Advances in file transfer technology have spurred widespread adoption of the exchange of digital information, but establishing systems that can accommodate all of the language, format, protocol, compliance, and security requirements can be tricky.

The good news is that the recommended technology already exists. Specialized software companies have had the capability to harness big data and integrate massive data volumes at one of the world’s busiest ports for years. Reliable managed file transfer and data integration platforms standardize communication data and simplify the logistics of moving goods into and out of port, all while meeting compliance needs for a plethora of governing bodies.

Included in the IMO mandate is the encouragement for the sea trade to implement a “single window” practice of exchanging information. This would enable all the information required by public authorities in connection with the arrival, stay and departure of ships, persons and cargo to be submitted via a single portal without duplication.

This is a point that resonates with businesses worldwide regardless of industry. In an era where so many disparate technologies are used within the business ecosystem, a single, easy-to-use portal that enables information to be submitted once, rather than separately from multiple sources is viewed more often as myth than reality.

But that reality is very much real, and the easy, electronic exchange of information is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to managing data to improve process efficiency, and as a competitive advantage. As more industries get on board, we will see increased adoption of big data technologies that will improve the way goods are exchanged around the globe.

thielens-john_headshotContributed by: John Thielens, Chief Technology Officer and data scientist at Cleo, a maker of enterprise data integration, managed file transfer and big data gateway solutions. He has more than 30 years of experience in the software industry. Most recently, he held the position of Chief Architect, Product Suite, and CSO with Axway. In prior roles, he served as a senior technology leader in GXS, Inovis, Tumbleweed, and other software technology companies. John holds a mathematics degree from Harvard University.


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