It’s been three months since India launched a more advanced single electronic platform for port users, and so far, results have been mixed.
The redesigned port community system, dubbed the PCS1x, went live on Dec. 11, with a raft of additional features designed to enhance user experience and improve the flow of cargo in and out of India’s ports. Spearheaded by the Indian Ports Association (IPA), the nationwide portal connects marine terminals, transport service providers (shipping lines, forwarders, truckers, and railroads), and related intermediaries (customs brokers, storage yards, and stevedores, among others) through a single platform. The program allows users to process delivery orders, transport orders, gate open cut-off times, delivery gate schedules, gate-in bookings, and pre-gate schedules electronically, rather than on paper, increasing efficiency and shipment visibility.
From the user side, adoption is growing. Portall Infosystems, which provides technical assistance to IPA, said in a recent project status update the new portal added 6,038 users through March 19, compared with 5,825 users registered under the discontinued version (PCS1). The company also said average daily transactions through the digital exchange have increased more than four-fold in the past two months, with the portal processing Rs 2.13 crore (roughly $306,000) in revenue on March 13. According to Portall, the port data exchange has also hit key milestones in data processing speed, scalability, stakeholder coordination, standardization, harmonization, and transparency.
However, ocean carriers continue to voice concerns about the portal’s functionality and requirements, and insist that several adjustments — or outright changes — are necessary to make the system more user-friendly.
‘Need of the hour’
During a recent review session convened by IPA in New Delhi, trade representatives led primarily by the Maritime Association of Nationwide Shipping Agencies-India (MANSA), which represents local ship agents, and the Container Shipping Lines Association of India (CSLA), the local umbrella body of foreign shipping lines, sought closer levels of coordination between stakeholders. At the meeting, industry leaders particularly highlighted “missing links” in the digital network preventing registered users from fully accessing all of its features.
“All stakeholders needed to be on board if [PCS1x] was to work smoothly across all sections of the trade,” the group said. “In the absence of other stakeholders in the portal, the value addition would not be visible.”
CSLA and MANSA representatives also outlined the difficulties facing users in processing system-enabled delivery orders for less-than-containerload (LCL) shipments. On a broader note, the associations said interoperability through data standardization is “the need of the hour,” as ports and terminals currently follow different data formats. Other MANSA “wish-list” items include an option for shipping lines to access daily inbound and outbound cargo movement reports from terminals through the common portal.
In a separate report filed with IPA, CSLA highlighted cyber security risks associated with a one-stop interface for portwide information given the absence of an adequate data protection framework, both functionally and legally.
"IPA mandating PCS1x to all stakeholders should be subject to changes brought in the laws for information technology and other allied laws, viz. related to cyber security, data protection, confidentiality, onus and stricter liability, and ensuring the responsibilities of individual stakeholders are well defined,” the association said. “CSLA also confirms that until the above-mentioned changes are done, only operational related processes should be mandated in PCS, and all financial transactions should be left out of PCS or should be optional.”
CSLA added that carriers are already offering many of the same services through their individual websites. The group, however, reiterated that member lines remain supportive of government efforts to develop a more efficient, streamlined supply chain environment.
With India's containerized trade projected to accelerate at a steady, healthy pace — the current fiscal year growth rate is pegged at around 9 percent — the emerging market economy is increasingly turning to technology and process improvements to keep pace. The rollout of the updated port community system coincides with a government effort to mandate advance electronic filing of customs documents, akin to the 24-hour advance cargo declaration rules in the US.
The country’s tech prowess is also drawing interest from global transport giants looking for the next transformational supply chain innovations. Maersk Group, for example, recently signed seven local startups to its OceanPro accelerator program, a collaborative rolled out in October 2018 with the goal of leveraging the benefits of blockchain, the Internet of Things (IoT), advanced analytics, and artificial intelligence (AI) on a larger scale for the development of unique end-to-end logistics solutions.
Indian ports still have to do a lot of work to match their leading international counterparts on operational efficiencies, but efforts like the updated port community system could go a long way toward reaching those goals.