Container shipping damned for its failure to adopt disruptive technologies

Container shipping’s dire adoption of new technology this century has been laid bare in a damning report from analysts at Alphaliner.

In its latest weekly report Alphaliner says the container industry has remained “highly reluctant” to embrace the use of new technology.

“The shipping industry has continued to lag behind other sectors in innovation, with disruptive technologies failing to gain any visible foothold in the market,” the report maintained.

Alphaliner noted that venture capital interest in container logistics technology is largely focused on the areas of rate management, shipment visibility, predictive analytics, electronic bills of lading and container tracking, but none of the start-ups have been able to provide an integrated shipping platform or transformative new business model.

“The returns on digitisation initiatives for the shipping industry are still poor with few of the carriers able to leverage on these initiatives to attain any real competitive advantage,” Alphaliner claimed.

According to Alphaliner statistics, about half of all bookings for container shipments continue to be made manually, while up to a third of shipping invoices are reported to contain errors.

Alphaliner said the current shipping platform market leaders – INTTRA, GT Nexus and CargoSmart – provide only basic software service solutions to handle cargo bookings, shipping instructions, track and trace and exception management and reporting. The market still lacks a more holistic platform, Alphaliner argued.

Various attempts to introduce new e-commerce platforms and create a digital marketplace for container shipping have flopped, with Alphaliner saying notable failures included Maersk’s and the Journal of Commerce’s JOC Exchange.

Even Alibaba and Amazon’s recent forays into the container space have generated little actual shipping volumes despite the initial fanfare, the analysts reported.

In concluding Alphaliner suggested: “New technology initiatives that can combine the operation, documentation, information and financial flows across the entire supply chain would have a better chance of success than piecemeal efforts that only address part of the supply chain issues.”

Commenting on the report, K D Adamson, the CEO of consultancy Futurenautics, told Splash:The pace of digital transformation in shipping hasn’t been fast enough, but the majority of the industry recognises that and, more importantly, many are actively trying to accelerate the pace of their transformations. It’s not just about doing existing things better, it’s about a reimagination of what you could do, if you build your business around the customer. That’s a tough challenge but I’m seeing more boards beginning to put their minds and money towards addressing it.”

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.


  1. It’s a though challenge, but change is coming and we all have to adapt to a self disrupting mindset to have a chance to keep up with the exponential change. Accepting digital transformation is a good start, but never enough to be prepared for what is coming at us.

  2. As an innovator in the maritime shipping and logistics world, this is somewhat comforting to read. We help move more cargo, faster through Octopi, the first SaaS-based terminal operating system for small to medium sized, mixed cargo facilities.

    For us, strategically we have to be thought leaders and continue to educate the market on the miraculous benefits of modern technology. Even in some of the most advanced port facilities, you still see pen, paper, and a lot of excel based processes that are costing these organizations tons of money. Thanks for the article.

  3. As with most successful, disruptive technologies, much groundwork is accomplished by incremental innovations over time, that when combined create a critical mass yielding fundamental transformation and in turn, acting as a catalyst for broad broad adoption. We in the global logistics technology industry are continually expanding features and use cases solving real world problems and delivering demonstrated value everyday. By promoting collaboration and openness, the ultimate goal of enabling comprehensive integrated shipping platforms are achievable by bringing together technology service provides complimented by meaningful adoption from the shipper community.

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