Port Community Systems

“Port Community Systems and other private / public collaborative systems are the way forward and need to be incorporated into future methods of border management.” Dr Alan Bersins, Assistant Secretary, US Department for Homeland Security – INCU Inaugural Conference, Baku, Azerbaijan, May 2014.

A PCS is an electronic platform that connects the multiple systems operated by a variety of organisations that make up a seaport or airport community. It is shared in the sense that it is set up, organised and used by firms in the same sector – in this case, a port community.

“Port Community Systems can, and will, play a major role as Countries move towards the Single Window environment; the members of IPCSA will be working together to provide expert opinion on proposed new regulation and contribute to the harmonisation and coordination of reporting formalities, processes and procedures.”

PCSs in Europe have a long tradition. The first to be established in ports in Germany, France and UK began to operate in the late 70s or early 80s. Countries such as the Netherlands and Spain started their PCSs in the 1990s or at the turn of the century.

Key drivers for the establishment of Port Community Systems were, on the one hand, the need for a standardised communication platform in order to improve the systems in terms of punctuality, reliability or costs and, on the other hand, the need to increase competitive position among ports.

A good collaboration with the key authorities, as well as with stakeholders, potential customers and local trade associations, was critical in the setting up of the respective PCS which were – and still are – implemented by means of special training and workshops with the end users.

While target market areas differ widely in terms of existing IT infrastructure and use of functionality, it is arguable that where little or no automated processes are in place either at frontier, port or fiscal and regulatory level, the PCS is ideally placed to form the foundation or backbone of the Single Window vision.

The number of ports connected to a PCS varies from one to many. Smaller ports in particular often join forces to set up a PCS or connect to an already existing PCS of a larger port or ports.

International Port Community System Association - Definitions

A Port Community System:

  • is a neutral and open electronic platform enabling intelligent and secure exchange of information between public and private stakeholders in order to improve the competitive position of the sea and air ports’ communities.
  • optimises, manages and automates port and logistics processes through a single submission of data and connecting transport and logistics chains

A Port Community System Operator:

  • is an organisation that is either public, private or public/private that operates and maintains a Port Community System and where the Port Community System represents the core of that organisations business.
  • has a board, or some form of steering committee, made up of representatives from different internal and external groups within the Port and Logistics community
  • has “service level agreements” with PCS users to manage the electronic exchange of information between different parties on their behalf.

A Single Window Operator is: 

  • The organisation that has the legal responsibility for implementation and operation of a Single Window within a country or region and which operates the Single Window within that remit, whereby the Single Window allows parties involved in trade and transport to lodge standardised information and documents. 

Typical PCS Services

A PCS is a modular system with functionality designed to provide all the various sectors and players within a port community environment with tools specific to them, thus delivering a tightly integrated system. Developed for port users by port users, a PCS encompasses exports, imports, transhipments, consolidations, hazardous cargo and maritime statistics reporting.

PCSs in general provide a huge range of services and key features which can be summarised as follows:

  • Easy, fast and efficient EDI information exchange, re-use and centralisation, available 24/7/365
  • Customs declarations
  • Electronic handling of all information regarding import and export of containerised, general and bulk cargo
  • Status information and control, tracking and tracing through the whole logistics chain
  • Processing of dangerous goods
  • Processing of maritime and other statistics

With all of these services come many advantages. The core benefits for all parties involved are higher efficiency and speed regarding port processes, particularly through automatisation and the reduction of paperwork. In this way, PCSs contribute to sustainable transport logistics and support the ambitions to meet global carbon reduction requirements.

The functionality is aimed at eliminating unnecessary paperwork which can clog up cargo handling. Using electronic data exchange, the PCS is an effective real-time information system; fast, focused, flexible and multi-faceted, it aims to improve efficiency at all stages of the process of manifesting, through vessel discharge and loading, Customs clearance, port health formalities and delivery in and out of the terminal.

As well as the above, the PCS offers improved security, cost reduction and potentially more competitiveness for each user.