How reducing paperwork improves data exchange in maritime industry?

This article will show you some basics of maritime data exchange: Bill of Lading e(BOL), mobile data capture. We also wish to show you a new way of virtual reality professional training. Let’s take an in-depth look at areas where reducing paperwork can improve the maritime industry. The reasons to use paper have dwindled fast as the need to use valuable and secured data grows.


Digital transformation is faster than we could have imagined 20 years ago. Before we dig into digital solutions, let’s see a few examples of traditional paperwork. Proper tracking of vessels and their cargo workflow traditionally can be at least exhaustive. The first fundamental question is how do you track your fleet? Using digital visualization on maps seems to be a standard tool. Without it, all you can have is a phone call with the vessel unit and its captain. You get an expert opinion from the operator and trust this word of mouth as a confirmation.

The next question is, how do you mark this unit’s position? At Setapp, we once got a project to digitize such a process. Our client used to match their fleet position and traffic on magnetic boards. As a consequence of this, when COVID occurred, this suddenly became a huge problem. No one expected this, this old-school solution worked, but in the event of any pandemic many companies needed to quickly digitize. The maritime industry was not an exception here.

We used OpenLayers – an open-source JavaScript library for displaying map data to show the live position of every unit in the diverse fleet of barges and pushers. The solution we proposed is written down here.

Moreover, what about the office workflow? What about complex contracts and all document workflow? All these paper imprints, dozen emails, excel sheets, shared text docs, and certificates. Documents get lost and sent by e-mail, and copies are made in the office’s printers. Sometimes they are left at desks unsupervised. Technology is the answer to all of these examples. 


Traditional training paper-based versus VR training simulator

It is something that uniquely you might also consider. The whole virtual reality learning experience have been studied by Stanford University in 2015. According to this research, the process can be even 76% more effective than standard ways of training. Definitely will help decrease paper usage and increase your company’s trainings efficiency. Just think about all those ineffective paper manuals. All of this can be replaced with Virtual Reality professional learning. It is not a new idea.

All kind of VR simulation is a way to train your employees about internal safety procedures. Not to mention the virtual reality simulations for professional pilots and drivers. This VR training hugely reduces accidents and improves the performance of both equipment and the person behind the wheel. For example forklifts. These are used hugely in logistics to move stock in warehouses or ports. The problem is that operators need to be trained for each type and model accordingly to manufacturer guidelines, as many differences exist. Not using the vehicle setting properly may be a risk for humans and stock. This means time and money are at stake too. One of our projects was about creating an advanced forklift simulator you can also read more about.

Would like to explore more about VR simulations versus traditional paper-based training?

When you think about all of this, awareness of the supply-chains industry paperwork problem steps in. What can you do about it?

By automating processes, and digitizing our activities, we can overhaul the inefficiencies that the paper introduced. By creating a single source of truth that is highly transparent, we can reallocate the large sums of money wasted each year on fixing errors to more valuable endeavors.

Moving to the next topic… data exchange with BOL or eBOL? Let’s go.

Bill of lading (BOL) – paper or digital data exchange?

As promised let’s discuss the Bill of lading. In maritime there are all sorts of data, they have many sources and one of the key challenges is keeping this data flow consistent. The most common pieces of data that transport companies work with are:

  • The shipping and receiving times,
  • Real-time sale data, passing down information on a given product to employers and customers,
  • Stock data and inventory levels,
  • Proof of delivery. 

The BOL ensures that goods can clear customs, prove ownership, and offer details on the quantity and type of the commodity. Introducing a digitalized BOL will streamline shipping, warehouse management, and speed delivery. It is probably the most essential document in the supply-chain industry. Furthermore the BOL’s information covers the most important critical details necessary for effective supply-chain management.


Maritime data exchange - are we leaving paper behind?
Maritime data exchange – are we leaving paper behind?

An electronic bill of lading (or eBOL)

Unlike BOL, eBOL is electronic, legal and functional tool. Above all, not a paper document. Majorly eBOL eliminates the time-consuming process connected to filling out the paper . What is more, this solitution has its own combination of a rulebook and technology which can replace the functions of a traditional paper bill of lading. As you can see the electronic bill of lading purpose is to digitize the core functions of a paper BOL. By this we mean namely its legal acceptance as a receipt, and also as evidence of containing the contract of carriage. Not to mention a document of title.  There are many different types of BOLs.

Even more noteworthy is that eBOL eliminates the time-consuming process involved with filling out the paper, not to mention the incredible savings and effectiveness that can be introduced by removing unfortunate occurrences such as losing documents that hinder trade. Saving time wasted on searching for exceptionally detailed maritime data is very beneficial. 

One source of information, one system with all the attachments uploaded in one place, under one vessel or pool partner, is a blast. That is the way to adequately cover transparent maritime data exchange.

Finally, undustry-wide adoption is significant for the success of digital BOL solutions. These digital systems are only as strong as the number of users they possess. Suppose only a few companies decide to take the digital dive. In that case, it may have a negligible impact on the industry. Above all, companies that stubbornly choose to do things manually will halt progress.


Mobile Data Capture – user-friendly maritime data exchange

What else can you use to make your data exchange more efficient? Firstly, you can store the information by devices named under the umbrella term: “Internet of Things” (IoT).  Hyland reports that by 2023, 1.88 billion workers will be mobile, making up 43.3 percent of the global workforce. How can you use it? For instance, to collect data from employees at vessels, ports, and warehouses to valuable information for legal or auditing services. They do have their phones with them at these units. Even more impressive is that the devices that collect contain valuable data don’t have to be state-of-the-art computers or smartphones. Above all, various gadgets and appliances can collect and archive information. Data doesn’t need to be complex to prove valuable to decision-makers. 

Of course, going paperless is the only way to make sense of these large data blocks. It would be insanity to allow a human worker to manually go through these data sets. This is where the next piece of the puzzle falls into place as far as mobile data capture technology goes. Complex computer algorithms must make sense of the happenings from all the data IoT devices harvest.

Mobile Data Capture
Mobile Data Capture

Telematics from GPS to Satelite tracking

As expressed earlier, one crucial big piece of data in the maritime industry is keeping track of all fleet units, ships, barges, and cargo. At this stage of technology, telematics systems are the solution worth exploring. A dozen challenges are here. Like covering blind spots where internet connection is low or nonexistent, and no GPS tracking can be used. Many times units are waiting longer in ports or barges alongside the rivers.

Additionally, due to the fickleness of internet connectivity in many sea areas, it is worth allowing offline data storage. This will guarantee that valuable data entitled earlier doesn’t disappear if the internet connection is lost suddenly.

One of the hottest disruptive telematics technologies is satellite maritime traffic monitoring. AIS (Automated Identification System) is spectacular and using it means getting ahead of competitors right now. This tracking system uses transceivers on vessels to deliver all sorts of traffic services. This MarineTraffics map shows an impressive amount of maritime data we are dealing with. 


Would you care for more informationon telematics? One step ahead of you, go for this post.


 Transparent maritime data exchange with proper system

First, data gathered and analyze by telematics systems efficiently help utilize maritime companies resources. Second, this saves money, reduces CO2 emissions, increases safety. It makes drivers’ work more accessible too. Furthermore, what else can we improve to make data flow better? Additonally, how to improve communication with, for example, vessel operators and employees? In order to answer these questions let’s think for a while. An average human being likely holds more computing power in the palm of their hand, than the crew of the Apollo 11 had when they made their faithful journey into space. With such potential, it would be a waste to leave it dormant.

As the adage goes, “knowledge is power.” It is no different in the maritime industry. Possessing superior data sets permits companies to make better decisions, predict where roadblocks may occur, and react quickly when any sign of trouble arises. You have your employees with their mobile phones. All you need is the proper management system.

Curious about some maritime data exchange examples? At one of the projects at Setapp, we worked on systems where users can upload documents and see instant feedback on specific data. This way, it is more likely to catch things that might lead to huge losses – for example, expiring certificates or other information that might lead to the vessel not getting into port successfully. What is crucial is instant and fast information exchange between office and vessel employees.

Better workflow, better maritime data exchange due to less paperwork:

  • Firstly let me express that trust is a critical ingredient of business. The transparency of martitimemaritime data exchange is the key. digital supply-chain solutions offer is ideal for facilitating trust between numerous entities. For example, companies can monitor each traded component and how it changes hands.
  • Moreover, this is an excellent opportunity to focus on the ethical and sustainable procurement of goods. Companies can keep a close eye on whether raw goods are from reputable sources, a practical implementation of corporate social responsibility. Transparent data access can also help build bonds between companies as partners can look into your inventory in real-time and plan company strategies accordingly.
  • One of the significant burdens on port warehouses is storing the inventory. The long-term storage of stock is responsible for considerable financial losses. Additionally, this waste of capital causes poor planning and a lack of proper recognition of trends in consumer demand.
  • All things considered, paper-based solutions will never allow such detailed analysis to the surface, so managers can analyze them before it is too late. The real-time tracking of rates allows for smarter management. As a result, costs are not sinking into holding onto goods. Not to mention fewer trees wasted. 


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