IPCSA: Signing up to a key digitalisation message

04 June 2020

Digital solutions are critical in enabling the smooth, swift flow of cargo and associated information and in removing bottlenecks, delays and unnecessary cost from supply chains: 

it’s a message that the International Port Community Systems Association has been telling the world for nearly ten years!

Perhaps this isn’t the moment to say ‘I told you so’, but certainly IPCSA is delighted to be one of the organisations signing a strong ‘Call to Action’ communiqué entitled Accelerating Digitalisation of Maritime Trade and Logistics, which recognises the heightened urgency of this acceleration as we plan for our post Covid-19 future.

As the Call to Action points out, port community interactions are not limited to the visible physical interactions such as cargo handling operations, vessel-related services and supplies, and multimodal transfers. Far from it – they also depend on the ‘invisible’, as in the many millions of data exchanges that facilitate the clearance and movement of cargo between jurisdictions.

When it comes to digitalisation, the Covid-19 pandemic has ‘painfully demonstrated’ the huge discrepancies between ports around the world, says the Call to Action.

“While some port communities seized the opportunities of the fourth industrial revolution and developed into full-fledged ‘smart’ ports, many others have barely

grasped the essentials of digitalisation and continue to struggle with larger reliance on personal interaction and paper-based transactions as the norms for shipboard, ship-port interface and port-hinterland based exchanges.”

It might be a surprise for many to learn that, at present, only 49 of the 174 Member States of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) actually possess functioning Port Community Systems. Clearly, in a Covid-19 aware world, that cannot continue.

In signing up to this Call to Action urging the wide-ranging adoption of secure electronic data exchange, IPCSA – and its PROTECT working group – have joined the International Association of Ports and Harbors (IAPH), BIMCO, the Federation of National Associations of Ship Brokers and Agents (FONASBA), the International Cargo Handling Coordination Association (ICHCA), the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), the International Harbor Masters Association (IHMA), the International Maritime Pilots Association (IMPA), and the International Ship Suppliers and Services Association (ISSA).

The communiqué sets out some clear priorities: assessing the state of implementation and finding ways to enforce the mandatory requirements in the IMO’s Facilitation (FAL) Convention; ensuring harmonisation of data standards; striving for the introduction of Port Community Systems and secure data exchange platforms; reviewing IMO guidance on the ISPS Code and maritime cyber risk management; raising awareness of and promoting best practice in port communities across emerging technologies such as AI, the Internet of Things, digital twins and Blockchain (amongst others); and facilitating the implementation of these technologies and other innovations to increase health and allow everyone to work and interact as safely as possible.

IPCSA chairman Hans Rook says:

“It is great to see the whole industry supporting the same message that IPCSA has been promoting since its inception in 2011. The Covid-19 pandemic has proved the value of Port Community Systems and Single Windows – this Call to Action is a milestone in having the whole industry supporting Member States and port authorities to work together, collaborate and develop these critical systems.”

IPCSA Last Word:

The Port of Zeebrugge, already a champion of digitalisation, has joined IPCSA. The Belgian port is looking forward to sharing its expertise, 

including from its Smart Port, Green Port and Safety Port projects.

Peter Merlevede, ICT manager at the Port of Zeebrugge, says:

“We believe in digitalisation and standardisation and want to be an active member of IPCSA – participating in these developments in a community that is broader than Zeebrugge port alone. We know that exchanging ideas and discussing experiences is always valuable for all parties involved.”


This article is written by Felicity Landon and the illustration is created by HumouRH for IPCSA. The PROTECT Group integrated into IPCSA in January 2021 and focuses on Electronic messaging for Port Authorities and develops and maintains various international messages. More information on IPCSA is available at www.ipcsa.international.