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Leadership & Communication | Technology | Transport & Logistics

Unlocking VTS data for optimal port operations

2 Sep 2020, by Amy Sarcevic

With $1.2 billion worth of trade moving through Australian ports every day, it is not surprising that the role of ports as a ‘service provider’ – and not just a ‘landowner’ – is becoming increasingly important.

Dr. Tim Wilkes of Marico Marine believes real time data, like that collected by vessel traffic systems (VTS), will play a major part in this identity transition.

“Every day, VTS systems collate vast volumes of real-time insights which, if tapped into, could generate sound, data-driven strategies for improving port service,” said Dr. Wilkes.

“Data like dynamic vessel movements can help ports optimise their maritime traffic and, ultimately, become safer, ‘greener’ and more cost-efficient.”

Often though, VTS data is inaccessible to port or terminal operators, who instead use historic (look-back) insights like ‘cost per voyage’, ‘transit time’ and ‘revenue per TEU’ to guide their operational and investment decisions.

While historic insights are important, they don’t tell the full story, and are limited in their ability to make accurate forecasts; or to help with the short-cycle cargo/terminal planning changes that shipping is notorious for.

“For maximum effect, predictive modelling requires a combination of historic, real time and big data (from aggregated market indices),” said Dr. Wilkes.

Wilkes and co-workers at Marico Marine have been helping port and terminal operators make better use of data, in their bid to develop more useful KPIs. He says having the right technologies to begin with is key.

“It’s important that ports develop the knowledge to procure the right technologies from the outset,” said Dr. Wilkes.

“Most ports are aware of the value of data and are doing great work with it. But at the same time, there are many products on the market that have a ‘black box approach’ to processing data. This is where data goes in and information comes out, and nobody, except the machine itself, has any idea what has gone on in between.

“That’s because many technologies in ports today are not built on an open platform, rather on proprietary software. If you want access to the raw data, you have to pay additionally for it. It’s an old-school approach, but one that is very much still in use,” he said.

“Nowadays, though, and especially in other sectors, there is a move towards open architecture and data sharing, which, so far, is trickling only slowly through the maritime sector.

“Selecting technology built on open connectivity principles will future-proof your business model, allowing you to take full advantage of data and its many benefits. Making data available – and transparent – to everyone who needs it is vital for a progressive, modern-day harbour operation.”

Dr. Wilkes believes access to real-time data across the port will enable maritime’s autonomous future – a paradigm shift that his firm is advocating.

Marico has recently been awarded a UK government development grant for a research project to help autonomous shipping interface with everyday harbour operations.

“For the safe integration of autonomous ships, we need the right data to be exchanged at the right time by the right software packages. It’s critical for risk analysis and mitigation,” said Dr. Wilkes.

“We can’t move safely towards our autonomous future without unlocking the full potential of real time data flow and, to that end, VTS will become an ever-important data-conduit.”

Dr. Tim Wilkes is Head of Technology at UK-based marine and engineering consultancy, Marico Marine.

Join him for more discussion on this topic at the IHMA Global Port and Marine Operations Conference – held as a virtual event on 5-9 October 2020.

Dr. Wilkes will explore how real time data can help the maritime industry strike various KPIs and move into a new paradigm of service delivery.

Learn more and register.

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