Guest blog by Geert De Wilde, CEO NxtPort
Waze on the water
Just over two years ago, the community of private companies in the port of Antwerp decided to launch NxtPort. They believed data could be the key to improve the logistics flow. Last year, Port of Antwerp and FPIM (Federal Participation & Investment Society) joined the initiative to increase its capital. This means NxtPort is now a mixture of private and public players. Some of the stakeholders are: the port authorities, shipping companies, terminals, warehouse operators and customs.
The main purpose of NxtPort could be compared to the traffic application Waze: improving the route to the final destination and bypassing possible bottlenecks by combining data from several players. When goods coming from China need to be delivered in Germany, the platform provides the data to allow subscribers to find the best logistics solution.
Faster and more efficient
Customs brokers and forwarders have already improved their workflow by using data from NxtPort. Upon the arrival of a vessel in the port, a customs declaration has to be prepared. These data are provided by the shipping agent. By sharing data before arrival, the custom broker can now immediately start a customs declaration speeding the import process. This is particularly important for perishables since the goods can be delivered to final destination much sooner.
In the chemical industry companies managed to eliminate a number of devious processes in which paper documents had to be provided. When a truck has delivered a certain load, its tank must be cleansed in a cleaning station. Previously the driver had to present a paper document about the last load of the tank. After the cleaning process he received a certificate, which allowed him to drive to his next client. That customer had to check the documents in turn before the truck could fetch the new load in the factory.
By sharing data with all these players, companies now immediately know what kind of load a truck has been carrying and when it has left the cleaning station. In case of contamination, they can even check the previous loads of the truck.
It should only be a matter of time before companies such as Amazon or Uber start digitizing logistics. Therefore, NxtPort aims to prepare companies to start operating with new technologies. The strength of NxtPort is a governance model which uses existing technology to develop a progressive platform, allowing companies to make efficiency gains.
Participating is easy and secure. A data provider can put data on the platform for free. Data are stored in a digital safe, which nobody can unlock without a digital key provided by the owner of the data. It’s also possible to share specific data with a particular party. For example, a shipping company could decide to share data about import with one player and data about export with another.
There even is a monetisation model, since any provider of data can sell data to another player in the chain. NxtPort will make sure the money is collected. The entire process is based on a digital handshake between parties, determining what can be shared to who and at what cost.
Of course, NxtPort had to overcome a number of challenges. Since the platform connects all logistic players directly, this is a disruption in the business model of traditional software developers. They had to rethink their business model as interfaces between parties became useless. Also, being such a young organization, NxtPort had to convince shipping companies, terminals, truckers and forwarders to share data and final recipients to embrace working with a trusted platform. Only if sufficient data were shared, such a platform could be interesting.
By now, NxtPort has proven its worth and subscriptions have been rising by 20% since the beginning of April. Most shipping companies are represented on the platform. As NxtPort provides the data backbone, applications have to be developed by the ecosystem. A total of 14 use cases are now live on the marketplace of NxtPort. Subscribers can access several, different applications with only one single connection.
Mobility in Antwerp
NxtPort is addressing a series of societal issues as well. Data are assisting customs to protect the security of the supply chain, making sure all deliveries entering or leaving the EU are declared. Another problem is mobility around the city of Antwerp. By integrating data about weather, traffic, barge connections, locks and water levels on the platform, recipients can optimize planning, allowing goods to reach their destination just in time.
The Next Mode of Transport application, designed to improve modal shift and mobility is now available. When someone expresses the intention to pick up a container by rail or barge, the terminal operator will take this into account and immediately position the container on the right spot avoiding unnecessary moves and waiting time.
Many customers nowadays have environmental concerns and NxtPort is addressing this issue too. For example, when a container has been emptied, it should be returned to the port. But if data visualize the location of an empty container, it can be reused by someone in the vicinity. That way, the container can transport goods for export to the port, saving two otherwise unnecessary rides. This makes transport cheaper, more sustainable and it also means less trucks are losing time in traffic jams.
NxtPort faces some new challenges to keep growing as a data sharing platform. First, security will remain a major concern for all participants. Everybody wants to make sure data are both safely stored and easy to access. NxtPort is therefore striving to become the trusted data sharing platform its clients expect it to be.
Second, in order to have a resilient model, the focus should be expanded. Until now, NxtPort has mainly been focussing on the port of Antwerp, but in a next phase the platform will operate on a more international level. Antwerp should become a hub in a global network of ports, all sharing data with each other. For example, when a container leaves Shanghai and is heading for Antwerp, it should be possible to track the ship during its entire journey and to align the supply chain of a customer.
NxtPort will also focus on connectivity with other platforms, such as air freight, road and rail transport. Shippers and consignees prefer to access data through one single platform instead of several channels. The port of Antwerp could be crucial as a bridge between different means of transport.