Indian Ports Association’s Successful Foray into Digitalisation

Sudhir Kanvinde, Executive Director-IT at IPA, Apex Body of major ports of India under Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways, GoI shares insights on how Indian Ports Association (IPA) embarked on its digital transformation journey even before COVID-19 struck, and how it is looking forward to enhancing its digital capabilities even further in the near future

With India’s vision of becoming Digital India, public sector organisations have a very critical role to play. The recent disruptions brought about by technological advancements and also by the COVID-19 pandemic have accelerated the digital transformation journeys of almost all public sector organisations today. Whether some of these organisations had already embarked on the journey or were planning to, the recent developments have certainly given it a push that was much needed.

Digital transformation on a fast track

Indian Ports Association (IPA) was constituted in 1966 under Societies Registration Act, primarily with the idea of fostering growth and development of all Major Ports which are under the supervisory control of the Ministry of Shipping. Over the years, IPA has consolidated its activities and grown strength to strength and considered to be a think tank for the Major Ports with the ultimate goal of integrating the maritime sector. IPA’s main objective is to make India a significant player in maritime trade, creating international standards in port operations and utilise the tremendous potential in our country’s 7517 km long coastline.

Talking about digital transformation initiatives at IPA, Sudhir Kanvinde, Executive Director-IT at IPA, Apex Body of major ports of India under Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways, Government of India shares, “Ports come under essential services, so we were operational throughout the lockdown period but with limited workforce. Our digital transformation strategy was in place even before the COVID-19 situation began, but it certainly accelerated the pace. A lot of IT initiatives were already there, but the pandemic helped us in getting all the required approvals, and we implemented a few of those in a very short time. For three major ports, because earlier the go-live date was in the month of September 2020, we preponed that and went live in the month of July – three months before with all our approvals and all the training. It has also made us take a more comprehensive view of all operations and processes for digitisation and automation. That helped us during this COVID-19 phase.”

Overcoming all barriers

Technology imperatives have constantly been changing, and convenience and personalisation at all possible touchpoints are now on top of the government agenda. IPA, being the nodal agency for all Indian Major Ports, has taken forward the Government’s initiative to establish a centralised/Uniform Web-based – Port Community System (PCS) covering all its Major Ports to move towards a paperless regime. As a part of its collective, collaborative and cooperative approach to EDI implementation, for the benefit of all the members of the Indian Port Community, covering non-major ports as well.

Foraying into digitalisation, there were certain challenges that Indian Ports Association was facing and it took timely steps to overcome from them. As per IPA’s aim to become more digitised, some key solutions were adopted, especially during this COVID-19 phase. “In the ports sector, the end-to-end digitisation processes has to be based on strong fundamentals. Only then can we build on it. So, we need to make sure that the fundamentals are strong and it should be long-term. Sea Cargo usually has about 20 to 27 touchpoints. We wanted to minimise these touchpoints where people used to hand over papers. So, collaboration and cooperation amongst all the stakeholders were important to take things forward in the desired direction. Optimum use of modern technologies like IoT and Blockchain was carefully evaluated, and during the pandemic, we implemented Enterprise Bill of Lading (EBL). EBL, which is a Blockchain platform along with our Port Community System (PCS) which was live much before the pandemic helped us a lot,” shares Kanvinde.

Partnering for success

In its endeavour to become more digitised, Indian Ports Association partnered with VMware with their vSphere solutions for its private cloud deployment as it was looking at the consolidation of its physical servers. Talking about the journey been so far, Kanvinde further explains, “It has been mutually rewarding. We certainly have a long way to go. It will always remain a work in progress, as is the case with all technologies nowadays. But overall, it has been a good journey, and so far, everything has been smooth. Right now, we are working on a massive project wherein five ports are going live in one instance.”

IPA wants to consolidate the number of servers as well as manage them from a central console, so it plans to use vRealize operations for operational excellence. This association will help them in optimising costs and optimising workforce resources, because everything will be managed from a central console.

Measuring efficacy and success

While the focus for IPA remains on digitising all its ports, it is equally essential for them to measure the impact of their digital initiatives. Speaking about the key success metrics that they are monitoring, Kanvinde shares, “So, in the digitisation of our ports sector, we are digitising the Port Operating System, Terminal Operating System and PCS is already there. The main agenda for us is achieving greater operational efficiency. We look at it through the lens of turnaround time, employee empowerment, less waiting time, better customer insights, and reducing logistics costs. All of these are interconnected systems. It’s like opening the door to globalisation. The entire digitisation is happening to reduce costs and increase revenue. And this is a cultural change. It cannot happen overnight, we are doing it in a phased manner, so that change happens in the right direction.”

Navigating the future, together

Digital transformation is happening across the globe in the field of logistics. And India is not far behind. At the pace at which it is going, the future will undoubtedly be more digitally advanced. For the Indian Ports Association, the aim is to mainly ensure all ports are connected and are on a single system. And as it moves further in its digital transformation journey, IPA is looking forward to more partnerships with technology leaders like VMware.

“At the moment, we are working together on a particular project for six ports, and there are 13 ports in India. So, this requirement for VMware is under EBS, i.e. Enterprise Business Solutions project which is an ERP implementation document management system and infra upgrade. It is an entire MPLS network, connecting all ports on one network. As soon as this gets live, we are going to start the project for the remaining seven ports. It is the kind of roadmap we have charted at this point. We are also implementing business analytics and dashboard because that’s the next step. We are collecting that data and converting it into digital format. Then we will come up with a dashboard,” shares Kanvide on the plans for IPA.

Indian ports handle more than 90 per cent of India’s total EXIM trade volume. Kanvinde further adds that the whole idea is to connect entire EXIM, which is the export-import trade on a single window. “That is something they are trying right now. The entire team is working on that since we implemented the Port-led development model where the entire logistics space like marine, land, and air operate in a synchronised manner to achieve synergies. It will reduce costs and will also promote the tourism industry leading to employment opportunities and all these factors clubbed together will improve the business ranking of India,” he adds.

IPA is committed to moving ahead from strength to strength. The future beckons them to go still further. Indian ports are in a healthy state. Yet IPA endeavours to set even higher standards for them. Further expansion, modernisation, digitalisation and diversification are the keywords for the future development of the ports.