MPA Singapore Riding the Digitalization Wave

The maritime industry is currently undergoing a number of changes, which mostly focus on digitalization and autonomy with the objective to keep up the pace with the latest developments in these fields.

Digital transformation of the maritime industry means that companies will now be able to leverage digital solutions such as data analytics, Internet-of-Things (IoT) and smart systems, which are expected to boost productivity and cut costs.

Kenneth Lim, MPA Singapore

Amid such novelties, a number of companies are already seeing a change in payments, with the introduction of cryptocurrency, while the industry is expected to witness new trends in workforce as well. World Maritime News spoke with Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore’s Kenneth Lim, Chief Technology Officer/Director (Research & Technology & Industry Development) on these developments.

To enable the industry to ride the next wave of innovation-driven growth and move up the value chain, Lim said that a concerted effort is needed to transform Singapore’s maritime industry to encompass knowledge-based growth drivers, using business models that employ advanced technologies such as autonomous systems, robotics, data analytics, and artificial intelligence.

With advancement in technology, new virtual means of payments, such as cryptocurrency, have emerged. Following MPA Singapore’s introduction of cashless payments as of January 1, 2018, the Singapore Government will continue to monitor the use of virtual currencies and adapt accordingly. Lim, who will be speaking at the Asia Pacific Maritime 2018 conference, which takes place 14-16 March 2018, added that the underlying technology behind cryptocurrency (blockchain) is currently on trial for potential applications.

Speaking about the impact of advancements in automatization and digitalization on the port’s workforce, Lim said that the port’s recently launched Sea Transport ITM has outlined that as the maritime industry transforms and grows, more than 5,000 jobs are expected to be created in the next decade. Workers will have the opportunity to undergo skill upgrading in their existing roles through various maritime programmes launched by MPA.

“We have also seen maritime companies tapping on the Maritime Cluster Fund (MCF) to upskill their employees not only in specialised areas, but also in more general areas like data analytics, cybersecurity, as well as in soft skills like communication and executive leadership,” Lim said.

As explained, the authority is set on building a future-ready workforce with relevant skills and a global mindset.

WMN: Navigational safety, congestion, training and blockchain have been identified as areas which could benefit the most from the digitalization drive in the port. How are the said areas expected to be digitalized in the future? Are start-ups the way to go?

Lim: The Smart Port Challenge in 2017 successfully attracted over 80 proposals, from start-ups and SMEs, with six eventually awarded grants to work with our maritime enterprises to develop the proposed products or solutions. The six projects aim to develop solutions to support digitalization in a variety of areas such as, remote vessel monitoring and crew reporting, vessel tracking within terminals, sharing of information, resource tracking and e-bunkering services.

We see start-ups as an important part of the maritime technology ecosystem, complementing existing technology developers, yet with the potential to bring in a new perspectives to solving challenges faced by the industry.

When asked about artificial intelligence would contribute to MPA’s technological development, Lim said that AI’s potential use is enormous.

“We have seen good use of machine learning to better passenger management in our ferry cruise centres, in areas of customer service and even in remote crane operations at the port.

“AI can also be used in navigational safety. We have leveraged the use of AI to predict potential hotspots, detect anomalous activities and in support of the next-generation vessel traffic management within our port waters.”

WMN: Finally, what remain the key challenges/objectives for the port moving forward?

Lim: As the maritime technology landscape evolves, Maritime Singapore will need to deepen our Research and Development (R&D) capabilities to remain relevant. The MPA Living Lab will offer technology developers and industry partners a rich maritime data platform and a real operating environment at the port to co-develop and pilot innovative solutions. MPA will also be working with stakeholders to promote greater sharing of data and information within the industry. In addition, new research centres of excellence at NTU and NUS will deepen Singapore’s maritime R&D capabilities and accelerate techno transfers and spin-offs in the industry.

We will also need to have a vibrant start-up ecosystem, to leverage the trends of disruptive technologies to digitalize our maritime services and products. This is why MPA embarked on the Smart Port Challenge last year, a platform to attract more start-ups to the maritime sector.

As digitalization transforms the maritime landscape, we will also need to manage cyber risks.

Last year, MPA proposed the formation of a “Port Authorities Focal Point Correspondence Network” comprising members from key maritime stakeholders from port and cruise terminal operators. This network will facilitate early reporting of maritime cybersecurity incidents and allow members to prepare and respond to imminent cyber-attacks.

“We recognise that we cannot embark on this digital voyage alone. In line with the recently launched Sea Transport Industry Transformation Map, we will need to work closely with the industry to equip our maritime partners with the relevant digital competencies,” Lim concluded.

Interview conducted by Erna Penjic, Editor, World Maritime News
Image Courtesy: MPA Singapore