Smart port, smart nation: Singapore builds on spectrum of strengths

Smart port, smart nation: Singapore builds on spectrum of strengths

Singapore often serves as the benchmark for other maritime nations, consistently applying innovative and effective measures to keep their port and shipping activities at the forefront of global maritime development. And on this island city-state, as the port goes, so goes the nation.

“Beyond hosting the world’s busiest container transshipment hub, Singapore aims to be a Smart Nation, where businesses can seize new opportunities in the new digital economy, and people are empowered by technology to live meaningful and fulfilled lives,” says Kenneth Lim, Assistant Chief Executive (Industry), Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA). He relates that this philosophy served as the foundation for the Sea Transport Industry Transformation Map, launched in 2018 to build on Singapore’s position as a global hub port and leading international maritime center, enabled by technology, digitalization and innovation.

 Kenneth Lim, Assistant Chief Executive (Industry), Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA)
Kenneth Lim, Assistant Chief Executive (Industry), Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA)

“Building on the strengths of the port, Singapore has grown to be a leading international maritime center, home to a diverse group of shipping companies providing a wide spectrum of maritime services such as ship management, ship agency, broking, finance, insurance, legal and arbitration, survey, and research and development,” says Lim. “With the presence of these shipping and related companies, we have also built a strong maritime tech ecosystem comprising local maritime start-ups, maritime tech developers and R&D players in Singapore.”

Next-generation port

To boost Singapore’s maritime industry and ensure growth in the port, Singapore has been building ahead of demand, Lim reports. Exemplifying this approach, work on the next-generation Tuas Mega Port commenced in 2015 and will continue to be developed in four phases.

“Tuas Port will be the world’s largest fully automated container terminal when fully completed in the 2040s. All container port operations will be consolidated at a single location, capable of handling up to 65 million TEUs per annum,” Lim says, adding that consolidating all container-handling facilities at Tuas will significantly reduce inter-terminal haulage operations and resulting greenhouse gas emissions.

“We will use automated technology to carry out key operations at Tuas Port, including automated wharf and yard functions, and full electric automated guided vehicles. Operations will be highly digitalized to optimize processes and enhance information-flow and sharing,” says Lim.

Digital connectivity boosts efficiency

Tuas Mega Port will also be the first terminal in Singapore to be physically and digitally integrated with the wider supply chain network. “Digital connectivity with key industry sectors in Tuas will help to improve efficiencies among stakeholders along the supply chain, including vessels, cargo owners and logistics service providers, and help to coordinate cargo flow in a secure and intelligent manner,” he relates.

Developing an advanced digital infrastructure is also central to improving regulatory efficiency and facilitating timely information exchange and data flow among port users and stakeholders, locally and beyond the region, says Lim.

In October 2019, MPA launched digitalPORT@SG™, a one-stop portal for regulatory transactions. Phase One of digitalPORT@SG™ aims as streamlining vessel, immigration and port health clearances across multiple agencies into a single application by consolidating 16 separate forms. Shipmasters and ship agents from more than 2,000 shipping companies can submit, track and receive approval for arriving and departing ships through the portal, saving up to 100,000 man-hours annually.

“In the next phase of development, to be launched this year, digitalPORT@SG™ will optimize port resources and enhance efficiency through artificial intelligence by facilitating just-in-time operations for vessel calls at the Port of Singapore, all aimed at reducing vessel turnaround times,” Lim tells.

“Looking beyond our shores, Singapore has also embarked on the digitalOCEANS™initiative, partnering with key stakeholders to work on common data standards and application programming interfaces to exchange data with ports and shipping-related platforms, with the aim of improving efficiencies in port clearances,” says Lim. “This should serve to reduce repetitive and manual completion of forms at ports along trade routes.”

Leveraging activity to foster innovation

As one of the busiest ports in the world, Singapore is blessed with a wealth of opportunities for development of smarter systems for moving goods and people, and MPA is working to take full advantage, Lim reports: “PIER71, or Port Innovation Ecosystem Reimagined @ Block 71, was officially launched in June 2018 as a joint initiative between MPA and NUS Enterprise to facilitate the digital transformation within the maritime industry.”

About 60 maritime startups have been accelerated in the program to date, with more than 30 receiving funding support for pilot projects. “This is also made possible by maritime corporations creating innovation opportunities in the form of challenge statements at the annual Smart Port Challenge. Some of these start-ups have gone on to secure private sector funding and ventured into international markets with Singapore as their base,” says Lim.

Another initiative, the Circle of Digital InnOvators (CDO) network, was launched in April 2019 to realize ground-up innovation and facilitate business transformation across maritime domain, including developing digitalization roadmaps and championing innovation within maritime enterprises. “These CDOs should also serve as change leaders to work with start-ups, maritime technology companies and the R&D community on digitalization and innovation projects,” notes Lim. To date, he reports more than 60 digital innovators in the network.

Maritime Digitalisation Playbook

“The pandemic has accelerated digitalization in the maritime sector,” Lim underscores. To support maritime companies in accelerating their digitalization plans to match this ‘new normal’, MPA, the Singapore Shipping Association (SSA) and Infocomm Media Development Authority launched the Maritime Digitalisation Playbook in June 2020. “The Playbook serves as a guide to help maritime companies uncover opportunities in the digital transformation and improve competitiveness and productivity. Companies can also refer to a comprehensive listing of resources in the Playbook to help kick-start or assist them in their digital transformation,” he says.

Sea Transport Industry Digital Plan

Aimed at encouraging maritime small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to take advantage of emerging opportunities offered by digitalization, the Sea Transport Industry Digital Plan is a joint initiative led by MPA reaching across several government agencies. The plan includes a roadmap charting digital solutions that SMEs in the harbor craft, ship agency and bunkering sectors can adopt at each stage of their growth. “The Plan also includes a training roadmap to prepare the necessary skills to adopt digital solutions and be ready for changes that come with the digital transformation,” says Lim.

Smart operations need smart people

“With the pace of digitalization picking up during the pandemic, upgrading talent and skillsets will be critical,” says Lim. To this end, MPA is partnering with SkillsFuture Singapore, Workforce Singapore, the SSA, and maritime companies and institutes of higher learning to provide up to 1,000 training opportunities, company connections and traineeships across the maritime sector.

Trainees will be equipped with skills in the industry’s new growth areas such as automation systems, digital transformation, modeling and simulation, and developing maritime-specific expertise in areas such as shipping operations and maritime superintendency. “These opportunities will not only prepare locals to help shape the industry’s future but also provide them with transferable skillsets relevant to adjacent industries,” Lim relates.

To complement the CDO network, the Circle of Human Resource InnOvators (CHRO) was launched in November 2019. The CHRO network seeks to drive workforce transformation in tact with digitalization trends by enabling HR and organizational changes in the maritime industry, Lim tells. “This is a platform for maritime HR professionals to share best practices and serve as strategic business partners helping to drive business transformation and innovation.” The first cohort comprised 18 maritime enterprises and it has since grown to include around 30.

Smart solutions to a challenging future

“Technological disruption and development is a global force that will continue to change the way we work. As a Smart Nation, MPA will embrace digitalization and innovate to enhance our strengths, overcome our limitations, and to build new growth areas for Maritime Singapore,” Lim sums up.

“In today’s rapidly changing business environment, it is essential for Maritime Singapore to be ready to adapt and remain relevant. We cannot afford to be complacent, and we will continue to tap into technology to create an integrated, innovative and inclusive Maritime Singapore ecosystem.”


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