Digital standards—the future of container shipping

Time for a leap forward in container shipping

In 1956 Malcolm McLean’s standardised shipping container made its maiden voyage. This started a revolution that not only dramatically lowered the cost of loading and unloading a ship, it made the modern globalised world possible.

But the container was standardised over 60 years ago, and the world has changed quite a bit since then. In the 1990s, the world wide web ushered in a global technological revolution on par with the shipping container.

DCSA and its carrier members believe the time is right for change. As we did in 1956, when a standards-based innovation in the physical world ushered shipping into the modern era, we now need to collectively embrace a standards-based innovation in the digital world to launch the industry into the future.

It’s all about the data 

Container shipping is still largely dependent on manual and paper-based processes, non-standardised data and non-interoperable technologies. For example, track and trace data is not aligned or interoperable across carriers and their logistics partners. As a result, multi-modal transport chains often appear as “black boxes” to customers, and containers are lost from view until they arrive at certain points in the supply chain.  

 The path to standardisation

As we’ve seen in other industries, creating an industry-wide foundation for interoperability that enables the seamless end-to-end flow of data will not only raise customer experience levels, it will increase efficiency, collaboration, innovation and respect for the environment. To achieve this in container shipping, there are 3 fundamental ways in which data handling needs to change:  

  1. Data needs to address the requirements of different industry stakeholders, particularly the customers of ocean carriers 
  2. Data needs to be digitalised in a standard way 
  3. Data needs to be communicated in a common way, in real time 

Benefits for all 

Shippers and carriers aren’t the only ones who will benefit from a technology foundation based on DCSA digital standards. Once standardised data is available via standard APIs, everyone who has adopted the standards can make use of it. This will enable solutions providers, freight forwarders and other third parties to build apps that provide new value to shippers. The kind of innovation and interoperability enjoyed by the airline and banking industries can be ours if we’re willing to work together.

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