MSC’s CIO makes the case for carrier digital harmonisation

Container shipping is playing catch-up with other industries such as aviation and banking when it comes to having a common set of information technology standards, the spokesperson for a proposed new group of liner giants has told Splash.

Yesterday, Maersk, CMA CGM, Hapag-Lloyd, MSC and Ocean Network Express dominated headlines with their plan to establish a container shipping association focused on digitalisation, standardisation and interoperability. The as yet unnamed association is looking to launch early next year, subject to regulatory approval.

André Simha, CIO of MSC and spokesperson of the group, told Splash it was high time liners had a more unified set of standards, admitting customers were not happy with the diverse of IT offerings from competing liners.

“If I was a customer I would be frustrated with all these different developments and standards,” Simha said.

The idea for the new association, the MSC executive said, came about from looking at other industries and questioning why liners were unable to offer similar initiatives.

“There used to be a lot of forced collaboration in the past, starting with [neutral container platform] INTTRA and then pressure came from customers to be more transparent,” Simha explained, adding: “We were each being transparent in our own way. We talked and slowly, slowly the idea for this association came together.”

Simha stressed the new grouping would be available to all sides of the supply chain, and he was hopeful that other liner giants such as Cosco and Evergreen would also sign up.

“We want all sectors involved,” Simha said. “We have to be humble and open and have to get others to join.”

Shipping is packed with associations including the Washington-based World Shipping Council (WSC), which represents global liners. Simha, a 31-year veteran at MSC, said the new grouping was not a threat to the 2000-founded WSC, explaining the council was more focused on the regulatory side of the business while the new association will be nearer to the IT side of the carriers’ affairs.

The association has no intent of developing or operating any digital platform, but aims to ensure interoperability through standardisation, the five carriers stressed in a release yesterday aware of the hurdles they will face from regulators. Similarly, the association said it will not discuss any commercial or operational matters.

Commenting via LinkedIn on the new association news, regular Splash contributor and SeaIntelligence Consulting partner Lars Jensen wrote: “This is an initiative which has genuine transformative potential should it prove successful.”

Jensen maintained it was vital liners could interconnect all their different systems, which requires a fundamental agreement on basic standards.

“Standards are not a source of competitive advantage for any single stakeholder in the industry, but the lack thereof leads to an unconnected patchwork of solutions benefiting neither the carriers nor the shippers,” asserted Jensen.

Splash columnist Kris Kosmala from tech firm Quintiq welcomed the news of the new association, saying the move was long overdue.

“The announcement by major carriers to establish an association dedicated to establishing and promoting common digitisation standards signals that carriers are finally getting serious about their existing data standards and the way they exchange that data with other participants in the maritime supply chains,” Kosmala said, adding: “Such initiative was long overdue, even though industries as diverse as telecoms, financial services, electronics or automotive have shown clear advantages of having common understanding and uniformed definition of critical data exchanged between all participants.”

Kosmala said he was pleased that this initiative was coming from within the industry, and not from the digital solutions vendors, as this will, he said, ensure faster acceptance, greater collaboration, and productivity gains among players relying on each others’ data to facilitate their own supply chain planning and management decisions.


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.
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