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Standardization and containerization in the digital world

    The standardization of the physical shipping container brought positive value by reducing the costs of transporting goods, end-to-end. The digital era parallel is the standardization of message formats and service interfaces. Standardization and containerization of the informational side of shipping can produce efficiencies in information sharing and in the decision process.

    Information about the location of a container (a “smart” container), its contents, its carriers, and the expected and forthcoming operations on the container provides value to all concerned. The requirement is open standardized communication channels between the different partners along the transport chain to keep each stage fully informed of the progress of the shipment, and in particular, information concerning when goods will reach their final destination.

    The article is based upon Mikael Lind´s Linkedin article: Digital Containerisation

    Physical and digital parallels of standardization

    Using standard message formats and digital protocols for smart containerization is as important and as the physical standardization of the ISO container itself. The digital interface for standardized messages can then be seen as a parallel to the physical handling of containers.

    Physical-worldDigital world
    Standard dimensions for IS containersStandard digital message
    Handling of containersStandard interfaces to
    information services
    Physical servicesData as an asset/ Informational

    Just-in-time arrivals and departures the port as a smart entity, up-to-date track-and-trace information, real-time tracking and the monitoring of dry and reefer smart containers, eBill of Lading, and architectures for enabling the digital collaboration are all examples of contemporary initiatives aiming at efficient resource utilization, energy-efficient maritime transport, enhanced predictability of movements and operations, as well as enhanced information transparency throughout the transport chain.  

    Also read: Ports on the move to become Global Logistics Information Exchange Hubs

    3 Key enablers for information transparency and situational awareness

    Standardized messaging

    Several message formats have recently been developed to enable the different actors in the transport chain to share data and work together. Examples are standards for port call messaging (e.g. S-211), standards for the status of the goods (e.g. EPCIS), smart containers, and reporting formalities (e.g. IMO/FAL pursuing the work of aligning diverse standards through its referencing framework).

    Standardized interfaces

    Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) are the “glue” between the different digital services that enable integration. When standard APIs are available to the industry, stakeholders benefit from new capabilities for connecting and integrating data across the intermodal supply chain ecosystem. APIs not only enable powerful new data services and applications. They simplify continuous adaptation to new business models.

    Photo by ThisIsEngineering 

    Information transparency through connected information sharing communities

    In order for organizations to share data, information services must be discoverable. To provide information transparency and situational awareness among a selected group of participants, information sharing communities empowered by data sharing platforms need to be established.

    Examples are event-data sharing environments within ports for synchronized coordination, port community systems, supply-chain visibility platforms such as Tradelens and the implementation of ONE Record, and single-window data sharing environments easing the administrative burden for episodic visitors (such as shipping companies) in their communication with authorities. One can think of these implementations as information sharing communities utilized for one-to-many communication.

    Shortsea Schedules is an example of a data-sharing community. Shortsea Schedules collects information on all shortsea schedules in Europe and provides information on alternative shipping and multimodal routes. The idea is to provide supply chain visibility to the cargo-owner investigating possible logistics alternatives. Thus, Schedules produce efficiencies both in information sharing and in the customer decision process.  

    Paving the way towards a connected maritime supply chain

    Historically, information sharing has been focused on providing individual actors with information on a one-to-one basis. As a result, individual peer-to-peer arrangements have predominated, resulting in significant maintenance costs and often the denial of relevant information to those who may have a supporting or contributing role. This web of one-to-one relationships means a large shipping company might have more than 20,000 peer-to-peer EDI connections to various business partners. This is costly to maintain and error-prone. You also need to invest large amounts of money to manage technical obsolescence of EDI platforms, which are unavoidable expenses with no business added value. 

    Jens Juel Rasmussen, Regional Director Scandinavia for Unifeeder Innovative and collaborative

    The industry needs to fully standardize the inter-modal supply chain using standardized data exchange and APIs. The various transport modes have reached different degrees of maturity in this regard. In this article, we have identified the relationship between standard message formats and a standardized interface, and connected information sharing communities to meet the demands of enhanced information transparency and situational awareness in the transport chain.


    The transport sectors need to reduce the burden of providing and accessing data to as low a level as possible to advance information transparency. Agreements for standards for messaging and interfacing among information sharing communities should be settled to ensure that the maritime sector keeps pace with the digital innovation taking place in other sectors. Containers standardized the physical movement of goods and reduced shipping costs to the point where they are a negligible factor in the cost of many goods. Standardized messages and APIs are the digital equivalent of the standardized container and offer similar revolutionary benefits. A further stage of maturity could be to monetize the data provided through the standardized APIs for each and every touchpoint in the supply chain.

    Read the full article: Digital Containerisation

    About the authors

    Mikael Lind is Associate Professor and Senior strategic research advisor at RISE, has initiated and headed several open innovation initiatives related to ICT for sustainable transport of people and goods. Lind is also the co-founder of Maritime Informatics, has a part-time employment at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, and serves as an expert for World Economic Forum, Europe’s Digital Transport Logistic Forum (DTLF), and UN/CEFACT. More information about RISE

    Hanane Becha is the IoT program Project lead at DCSA and also the lead of UN/CEFACT Smart Container Project as well as the UN/CEFACT Cross Industry Supply Chain Track and Trace Project. Hanane has a solid background from the IoT provider perspective, having worked at TRAXENS for many years. Hanane has received a Ph.D. and an M.Sc. in Computer Sciences from the University of Ottawa, Canada. More information about DCSA

    Andre Simha is the Chief Digital & Information Officer at MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company, the second largest container carrier in the world, whose team is responsible for implementing and developing the complex data flow between the company’s headquarters and its agencies around the globe, as well as steering the business towards the digital future of the shipping and logistics sector. Simha is also the chairman of the Digital Container Shipping Association (DCSA). More information about MSC

    Francois Bottin is the Head of the Digital Factory, a global organisation having the responsibility of leading the digital transformation of CMA CGM Group and digital projects delivery. CMA CGM is a French container transportation and shipping company headquartered in Marseilles, leading worldwide shipping group, using 200 shipping routes between 420 ports in 160 different countries. More information about CMA CGM

    Steen Erik Larsen is the head of Technology M&A in A.P. Moller – Maersk, the global integrator of container logistics, connecting and simplifying the supply chains. Larsen has the responsibility of the enterprise risk management aspects pertaining to information technology in integration and partnering, and is also representing Maersk in the Digital Container Shipping Association (DCSA). More information about A.P. Moller – Maersk