Streamlining international trade by digitalising end-to-end documentation

The urgency of port call optimisation and Just in Time

Port call optimisation is critical in the shipping industry and ‘Just-in-Time’ (JIT) is the key to achieving it. By embracing JIT, port calls and the entire supply chain become more predictable, sustainable, efficient and safe, benefiting all stakeholders involved. And all that without requiring infrastructure investment.

To create operational visibility and optimise the port call process, a global, scalable standard is needed. The DCSA JIT standard, with its message format and open source API code, can get you started straight away.

The inefficiencies of port calls today

Every day, ports around the world handle thousands of containers from vessels that must dock, discharge and load containers, and depart. The smooth-running of such a complex operation relies on information exchange. Stakeholders, principally carriers, port authorities and terminal operators, continually circulate information to manage vessel arrivals at, and departures from, ports. They must also co-ordinate port activities, such as bunkering and cargo unloading and loading, whilst vessels are docked.

The port call process of today is highly inefficient. Unclear or missing communication about port call events means that ships hurry to port, only to wait outside the port area. According to S&P Global and World Bank, at the end of 2022, the global average arrival time (which includes port area arrival to all-fast at berth) in the world was 11 hours. In Q3 2021, it peaked at 11,5 hours average. All this hurrying to port causes unnecessary emissions, both during sailing as well as around port cities.

Operational planning is much like a house of cards. A disruptive event, such as the delay of one vessel, heavily influences the operational planning of all port call events such as cargo operations and bunkering, and all subsequently connected nodes. It makes port call planning and all activities of that particular vessel, the vessels that follow it, the port, the terminal and the hinterland supply chain reactive and ad-hoc.

The main reason for these inefficiencies is lack of communication, clarity and interoperability. The systems used by stakeholders don’t necessarily ‘talk’ to each other, so data cannot flow freely and quickly. Instead, EDI, emails and telephone calls are primarily used, which are slow, undocumented and can’t guarantee a response. Without unambiguous, high quality, standardised exchange of data from the correct data owner, stable planning of events in the port call is near-impossible.

Increasing trade demand means more ships and more equipment

The container fleet has increased, to 5,589 ships in 2022, and with global trade set to double in real terms and quadruple in dollar terms by 2050, the industry will need to keep on adding more equipment and more and bigger vessels to meet demand. But without a focus on efficiency and interoperability, this will surely result in even more waiting time at ports.

Fortunately, digitalisation is delivering the necessary tooling for information exchange between port call partners. This includes smart port community systems, terminal operating systems, berth alignment tooling and AI-based voyage optimisation.

However, with this comes an increased demand for these systems to connect. If there is no common language and no clear data and process ownership, it takes tremendous effort to establish a connection with every single port call partner with a different dialect of API, and create clarity in the process.

For reference, if all the platforms create unique APIs, it takes significant IT development costs, in the region of $10,000 to $50,000 per API, without even looking at maintenance and updates.

This is apart from making sure that the data is of sufficient quality and consistency so it can be visualised, analysed for trends and improvement opportunities, and automated. As stated in the Container Port Performance Index 2022, “Comparing operational performance across ports has been a major challenge for improving global value chains due to the lack of a reliable, consistent and comparable basis”.

To summarise, a data standard from a neutral source is needed. One that uses globally aligned definitions, that is scalable, platform agnostic, neutral and usable. The DCSA JIT standard ticks all these boxes.


The DCSA JIT standard

DCSA’s JIT standard is built upon the International Maritime Organization (IMO)’s framework for the negotiation of port call events: the Estimated – Requested – Planned negotiation cycle, as outlined in the Global Industry Alliance (GIA) Just in Time arrival guide.

The DCSA JIT standard creates usability of the IMO framework by adding a message format, standardised process, and interface standard to facilitate implementation. It is a complete standard, including all the main port call activities, and the messages include all necessary attributes. Having said that, implementers can start with a small scope if they wish, implementing parts of the standard to start seeing benefits straightaway.

The standard is platform agnostic, so parties who may not use the same technology platforms can still benefit from streamlined information exchange. It is free-to-use, neutral and open source, so anyone can access the code and get started immediately. Lastly, the standard is continuously aligned with other standards bodies and platforms in order to stay scalable and globally applicable.



The benefits of Just in Time


Reliable, resilient and efficient port calls 

Just in Time port calls, achieved through a digital communication standard, enable efficient negotiation and planning of arrival/departure of vessels at port, and all port activities and clearly signals an agreement to the ecosystem.

Knowing when ships will arrive, where and when allows for efficient planning of terminal operations (crew, crane and yard planning), port nautical services (pilotage in and out of port, tugs, mooring) and all other vessel activities (e.g., refuelling, provisioning) and even subsequent port calls and the hinterland. It reduces waiting time for vessels entering ports and idling time of all assets necessary to perform operations, and enables these activities to adjust proactively to disruptions, rather than reactively.

A low-cost and sustainable solution

As seen in the table below, the 2022 report by GreenVoyage concluded that by applying JIT practices only 24 hours before a port call, container ships can already reduce 5.9% fuel consumption per voyage, which adds up to an over 8 million Mton of CO2 saving a year. This increases significantly when applying JIT more broadly, and still excludes the emissions saved by efficiency gains of activities in port and hinterland. Studies suggest that removing wait times at anchorage can cut global shipping emissions by around 20%.


To be greener, shipping is exploring the use of alternative fuels, but port call event optimisation, through JIT, is necessary regardless of a switch to greener fuels. A JIT approach will mean reduced energy use overall – the greenest approach altogether – and with the higher price of alternative fuels, the cost saving potential of JIT only increases in the future. JIT requires no significant infrastructure investments by ports, ships and other facilities in order to be implemented. It is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to become more sustainable and more efficient at the same time.

Implementing JIT port calls will benefit the whole supply chain.

Port call optimisation initiatives, including JIT, benefit the wider industry through the “ripple effect”, whereby efficiencies port-side help streamline onward cargo movement by road and rail, and a vessel’s subsequent port calls. Imagine a vessel visiting Antwerp, then Rotterdam, Felixstowe and Hamburg, four closely located ports. A delay at the first port visit affects the subsequent port calls (e.g. feeder vessels) and all events and activities within the ports and their hinterlands.

When JIT is done well, the whole network and supply chain becomes significantly more predictable, reliable and efficient. Optimising container shipping and port processes improves the customer experience for all stakeholders involved in the supply chain. When each interaction is simpler, clearer and more meaningful, customers and their hinterland supply chain are better informed and better able to plan.


This is not a zero-sum game: everyone can benefit from port call stability and predictability

JIT helps all port activities run smoothly. There is a tremendous opportunity for container shipping to become greener and more efficient. When stakeholders in the supply chain collaborate, transform legacy ways of working, and embrace digital information exchange they can improve port call performance, stability, efficiency, reliability and sustainability to the benefit of all.


Find out more about Just-in-Time