CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly
April 10, 2020
Forward Thinking

The maritime industry's digital future

Companies involved in ocean freight will need to embrace emerging technologies such as big data analytics, blockchain, and automated operations in order to stay afloat, says ABI Research.

Analysts from the technology advisory firm ABI Research predict that digital technologies will radically transform the maritime industry over the next five years. In the 32-page report, The Digital Transformation of Maritime Freight, ABI researchers Susan Beardslee and Dominque Bonte, argue that there are huge opportunities for digital solutions to improve efficiency, visibility, environmental health, and security in the ocean shipping industry.

This is good news because if any industry is ripe for innovation and transformation, it is maritime shipping. Transport times are long. According to the report, it typically takes about a month for maritime cargo to get from China to the Eastern United States, Northern Europe, Eastern Africa, and South America. Furthermore, delivery dates are variable. Five to ten days can be added to schedules due to loading and unloading at the origin and destination ports.

And it's not just physical movements that are inefficient. The report estimates that, in 2017, the global container shipping industry processed nearly 1.26 billion freight invoices. And yet, payment methods are currently "slow and antiquated," according to Beardslee and Bonte, as the industry still primarily relies on bank transfers and checks.


Digital technologies such as procurement platforms, blockchain, and freight marketplaces, however, could significantly speed up the payment process. Other digital technologies could make big improvements to delivery times, environmental health and safety, and visibility. A few that Beardslee and Bonte believe are poised to disrupt the shipping industry in the next five to ten years include: big data analytics, electric vessels, assisted and automated operations, drones, robotics, and virtual and augmented reality.

However, the analysts do not believe that all digital technologies will have as quick an impact. For example, they say that the industry will take longer to adopt 3D printing and autonomous ships.

There is one major challenge that stands in the way of a successful digital transformation of the industry, according to the report authors: the total lack of data standards. Even digital providers have to scour masses of spreadsheets daily for pricing, they say. To solve this issue and create much-needed standardization, veteran companies must work with partners within the industry, outside experts such as technology startups, and even competitors, says Beardslee.

The Digital Transformation of Maritime Freightreport is part of the ABI Research's Intelligent Transportation & eFreightresearch service.


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