The role of the ship agent in the digital age

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has published a new article on the impact of digitalisation on the role of ship agents, arguing that better communications and the wider access to situational data enabled by modern technologies will require agents to adapt their businesses to maintain their relevance in the future.

The piece, written by Mikael Lind, Associate Professor and Senior Strategic Research Advisor at Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE), and Juan Carlos Croston, VP Marketing & Corporate Affairs with Manzanillo International Terminal (Panama), suggests that agents’ traditional strengths inherent in their unique social networks and organisational processes may be eroded by an increasing level of digital data sharing among port actors.

“Enhanced digital collaboration, by direct digital data sharing, creates a dynamic, up-to-date, common situational awareness as the basis for the alignment of activities in the port call process,” the report says.

“An increased focus on port call optimization offers significant opportunities for efficiency improvements and environmental gains for service providers and consumers. But this requires rethinking many port call activities and roles.”

“In this context, digital data sharing and collaboration could challenge the power of the ship agent as the primary information hub for all involved in a port call and may be interpreted as a force reducing the value proposition in the ship agent’s business concept.”

While these emerging trends may create challenges for ship agents, the authors believe that opportunities also exist for these agents to embrace new technologies and integrate them with their traditional strengths to provide better services at future digitally-enabled ports.

“With the growing ability of the ship agents to collect and analyze incoming data streams, their value proposition for both the ships as well as the port actors opens new opportunities to change and enhance their business model,” the report continues.

“They could go beyond organizing the delivery of local services to ensure that they are delivered with full satisfaction and predictably as well as validating invoices against real time data. This means that a ship agent could become the provider of information and optimization services to transport buyers and cargo owners by becoming the physical and informational integrator of maritime operations in the global transport chain.”

The full article can be viewed on the UNCTAD website by clicking here.

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Rob O'Dwyer

Rob is Chief Network Officer and one of the founders of Smart Maritime Network. He also serves as Chairman of the Smart Maritime Council. Rob has worked in the maritime technology sector since 2005, managing editorial for a range of leading publications in the transport and logistics sector. Get in touch by email by clicking here, or on LinkedIn by clicking here.

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