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Singapore’s maritime sector must go paperless to build pandemic resilience

Earlier this year, the Singapore government passed the Electronic Transactions (Amendment) Bill with the aim of enabling electronic bills of lading to be recognised as legally equivalent to the corresponding paper versions.

This was part of a wider push to encourage the adoption of digital solutions across regional and global supply chains.

It’s also why the city-state set aside S$10 million from its Maritime Innovation and Technology Fund to support the scaling of start-ups developing new technology to tackle challenges faced specifically by the maritime industry.

Maritime remains a vitally important strategic industry for Singapore given its position between the Strait of Malacca in the west and the South China Sea in the east, through which vast amounts of global trade flows.

In addition to the Maritime Digitalisation Playbook released by the government to guide shipping and maritime companies in their digitalisation strategies, private sector innovation also has an important role to play in transitioning this old-economy industry into the modern digital age.

Digitizing maritime in Singapore

This year, with COVID wreaking havoc on supply chains and global trade, Singapore actually hit a record high with container volumes of 3.3 million twenty-foot-equivalent units.

Unfortunately, at the same time as volumes were spiking, container ships faced turnaround delays of between five and seven days compared to the previous maximum of just two days.

If Singapore, as one of the busiest and most advanced shipping ports in the world, is struggling with processing this pandemic-related surge in cargo volumes, you can bet maritime sectors in less developed markets are struggling too (likely even more).

One of the most obvious places to start addressing these challenges is at the heart of the problem: with the slow and old-fashioned paper-based documents and processes that are still commonplace in maritime, slowing the sector down just when it needs to be speeding up.

Let me give just one example: for each shipment in Singapore and elsewhere, it’s estimated that an average of 200 documents have to change hands over 100 times.

It should be clear, then, that the digitization of maritime documentation would not only strengthen operational efficiency, but may also help reduce turnaround times and fuel usage for ships at port.

Reducing maritime’s carbon footprint

Reducing paper and moving more maritime documents including contracts, invoices, and receipts into digital versions would represent a good strategic step towards not only modernising but also decarbonisation of the maritime sector as a whole.

In a speech at the recent Singapore Maritime Week, Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Transport Chee Hong Tat emphasized technology’s pivotal role in creating a resilient maritime sector, especially as supply chains recover after COVID.

Minister Chee explained: “We have to continue pushing for common data standards so that we can integrate networks and systems, and propel further adoption of digital solutions across global supply chains.”

The time is right to begin a firmer push on this front now—as large swathes of the economy are speeding up digital transformation efforts, it remains a sad fact that as much as 80% of ports are still missing out on the benefits of digitalization.

Indeed, the majority of ports worldwide still rely on manual processes such as whiteboards and Excel spreadsheets to manage and organize marine-side port operations, before even touching on some of the commercial documentation mentioned earlier such as invoices.

As companies look ahead to building pandemic resilience, putting in place digital transformation measures that will mean future disruptions are less crippling to operations and supply chains, it is traditional industries like maritime here in Singapore that are most at risk of being left behind.

We are pleased and excited to be building solutions, such as Bill One by Sansan that will help maritime stakeholders through this difficult but necessary journey.

By taking some simple but aggressive steps to digitize their paper-based documents and processes, stakeholders stand a better chance of making it through the next global business disruption event when it eventually hits.

 

This thought leadership article was written by Edward Senju, the ASEAN regional CEO of cloud-based contact management firm Sansan, based in Singapore. Sansan provides a CRM solution designed for enterprises or medium businesses that allows users to scan and upload business card information to the cloud to then share these contacts within an organization.

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