Port Community Systems – a voyage of discovery

November 10, 2011 — Leave a comment

Port Community SystemSince the mid-1980’s the concept of port community systems have abounded in various guises. Portnet (now Transnet Port Terminals / National Ports Authority) initiated a drive around this time as well, however the maturity of B-2-B e-commerce, at the time, was in its infancy and there were simply not enough ‘takers’ due to the unknowns such as ‘cost’ and ‘what’s in it for me’. Similarly, the air cargo community – in Europe especially – operated what was called ‘cargo community systems’ (CCS), most of which were operated by a value added network operator who provided the infrastructure and together with an ‘industry/community’ project team developed all the necessary transaction interchanges to facilitate data exchange between participating trade and logistics entities. Some of these CCS’s interfaced with Customs, but mainly serviced the forwarding and cartage community. Towards the end of 1998, South Africa established its very own known as ZA-CCS. Like Portnet’s endeavour, it was perhaps ahead of its time with very few participants to support the anchor sponsor, being the South African Airways. Two years later SARS implemented its EDI programme, and so developed a new era in information exchange for the customs clearing fraternity. The number of service providers also increased to support a burgeoning need for ICT capability. Mainframe systems gave way to thin client and PC-based solutions making it all the more affordable and accessible to the greater trading community.

In the US, Los Angeles has spent considerably more installing security cameras than ports have spent in other countries on setting up a Port Community System. However these have yet to prove their worth in the lucrative US market. Much like the voyages of discovery to the New World 500 years ago, Port Community Systems are taking their time to spread beyond Asia and Europe. In the US, they are virtually unknown outside their uses in security and safety.

European ports have undoubtedly benefitted from PCS in varying forms. An outstanding system is Portbase, linking Rotterdam and Amsterdam in virtually every activity. So far, 40 different services are offered, with Notification of Dangerous Goods next in line. The big test in extending Portbase lies in fitting the programme into less homogenous conditions elsewhere.

At Gothenburg in Sweden, the most significant aspect was integrating with the government systems, regulations and requirements – especially in areas such as control of dangerous goods and waste disposal. The single window application is a key to success. Based on a module approach, three sub-programs – the Vessel Clearance System, Marine Service System, and Cargo Management System – cover the spectrum of operations linking port customers, users, management and government authorities.

In developed countries the differences are marginal when new systems are set up, because every port is already heavily computerised. In emerging markets even the most basic computer system can mean a huge step forward. It’s also a big plus when free trade agreements are signed. Customs administrations will zero in on the most efficient port as the designated Trade Zone or bonded manufacturing facility. The more efficient a port, the more likely that it will be used as a trade lane.

In the US, the focus of information exchange is almost solely on safety and security, a consequence of the 2001 terrorist attacks. Commercial and operational information sharing is almost non-existent, and the reason is the extremely competitive culture that pervades business.

The universal opinion is that terminal operators and port authorities jealously guard their business models and details from rivals. It’s all a case of ‘you jump in first’. There is a total refusal to be the first to set up a system – the competitors would be only too happy to plunder the information without giving anything back in return. In complete contrast, the approach to security and safety is “the more the better“. (In South Africa we refer to it as a ‘data rich’ environment). These are undoubtedly interesting times we live in. Source: PortStrategy.com.

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