The Modal Model

"The government's larger initiatives like GST and specific ones to transform ports, in tandem with technological innovations such as IoT, robotics, and unmanned vehicles and equipment, will first impact transportation of containers, rather than passengers."

At times I feel our ports have been left behind in the mainstream tech conversations across industries. However, a clued in stakeholder will know how technology is going to disrupt our basic business functioning and that the transformation is nearer than it seems. The good part is that in India, the government got the timing right in terms of larger initiatives to transform ports. The Sagarmala programme is driving improvements at government-owned ports, while Bharatmala and Dedicated Freight Corridors (DFCs) will provide impetus to hinterland connectivity at Indian ports. DFCs will also provide higher capacity, speed and priority to cargo movement, which will have a substantial impact on the efficiency of cargo movement.

There has been continued focus on using diverse modes of transportation, which are not only environmentally friendly and enhance logistics efficiency, but also support and take advantage of our ports. Relaxation in Cabotage Law is driving coastal movement of goods (ships flying foreign flags now don't need to get a licence to carry out coastal shipping in India), enhancing ease of doing business. Recently, containers were moved from Kolkata to Varanasi through inland waterways. This has only begun and we are going to see a combination of inland waterways and coastal shipping changing the way we move goods within the country as well as to and fro from ports.

There are other interventions that are showing an impact on the ports and logistics ecosystem. The combination of GST, E-way bill and use of RFID (radio-frequency identification) tags at toll plazas are some steps that are smoothening movement of goods, directly affecting efficiency and planning at ports.

In all directions

Tech disruptions in ports and shipping sector are comparatively less discussed than in other industries, but the potential impacts are huge. Technology is not a standalone function anymore. A combination of IoT and big data analytics is such an example. Sensors are used on equipment to capture all possible data, which then goes through advanced analytics to produce actionable insights that can improve operations.

Digital transformation has potentially profound implications for port operations and management. Key technologies supporting digitisation in ports and maritime transport business include innovations such as IoT, robotics, automation, artificial intelligence, unmanned vehicles and equipment, and blockchain. Interventions like these will help optimise traffic, increase operational efficiency, transparency and speed, automate processes, and reduce inefficiencies and errors.

There are three broad areas in which future ports will see the impact of innovative technologies. These are:

  • Loading and unloading operations with machine learning, platform solutions, robotics, intelligent asset development and mobile workforces.
  • Storage with big data analytics, smart metering and single views of stock.
  • Industrial processing with smart grids, smart energy management, three-dimensional printing, safety analytics and predictive maintenance.
We are actively targeting analytics for performance improvement and experimenting with use of blockchain technology to make transactions more secure.

The future of ports and shipping would be materially different. Automation in container terminals is already taking place across key ports around the globe, thus improving their productivity and efficiency to secure a competitive advantage, while also being environmentally friendly and reducing carbon emissions through clean technology. Adani's container port at Vizhinjam in Kerala will be India's first semi-automated container terminal and we look forward to ramping up the existing operating business with minimum opex, higher reliability, improved efficiency, higher safety and enhanced sustainability.

The writer is CEO, Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone