Ever bigger container ships and larger cargo volumes are creating challenges for port operator PSA International.
As larger ships capable of carrying more containers are built, PSA must streamline port operations such as berth, yard and resource planning to lift productivity, said its group chief executive, Mr Tan Chong Meng, on Wednesday.
Speaking at the IBM InterConnect conference, he said technology can help PSA to better anticipate growth in shipping volume so that it can lift productivity to provide improved customer service.
He noted that the largest container ship from Maersk shipping line, the McKinney Moller, can carry 18,000 standard containers. It called here last month.
"Compare this to the early container ships in the 1950s, which could carry 500 to 800 of these 20-ft containers. Container ships have doubled in size every eight years."
Bigger container ships are being built in response to the surge in world trade in the past 20 years, Mr Tan said.
In 1990, only 88 million containers were shipped. By 2000, this volume had more than doubled. In 2010, the volume reached 548 million containers.
This trend will continue and ports will become busier, he added.
Another challenge is that liners are "code-sharing", by forming alliances so that they can optimise the use of container ships, he added.
Liner A can have 12 per cent of space, another 14 per cent and so on.
A port operator must have the intelligence to know where each liner's containers are kept on a ship so as to load or unload them in the most optimum way.
Data analytics can help to predict future growth as well as suggest ways to optimise the port operations, he said.
In a panel discussion following his talk on company transformation using data analytics, he said that PSA International has to transform itself.
"Take the last two decades. In the early phase, excellence was about building good assets, buying the right equipment and expanding in the right way.
"In Singapore, we've been developing frontier technology to cope with demands of shipping lines. Automation is one way for us; another is using information for better planning to anticipate customer demands."
Data and data analytics can help. Today, it is tracking the growth patterns of shipping lines, using historical trends and analysing them on spreadsheets.
But this is inadequate as data becomes more abundant. Spreadsheets can no longer cut it, he added. New IT systems are needed to provide better information to act on.
IBM chief executive Virginia Rometty, the other executive on the panel, said that complexity needs to be addressed as it occurs.
"Everything IBM does, we put analytics in the centre. Our acquisition team created an analytical model to give us the top three things that have to happen right with any company we purchase. The team's track record is a 95 per cent success rate."
But the jewel to staying ahead of the competition is for CEOs to look at untrodden paths, said Mr Tan.
"If you want to transform, look into areas that no one else is looking at. You'll find something to make you better," he said.
Even though he believes that IT systems can make a company smarter, he cautions that people should not be slaves to technology.
"IT systems are smart, but people are wise. That should be the way we use technology."
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