How the shipping industry prepares for the digital future


Cyberattacks? Ship delays? Problems fuel Henning Schleyerbach. That’s why he is just right at the DCSA. With his degree in physics and as a former IT expert at Hapag-Lloyd, he knows that there is a solution to every challenge.

Since summer 2019 you are COO at the Digital Container Shipping Association. You are developing uniform standards to obtain comparable data. That might sound like a dry topic, but it is clearly doing no less than preparing the entire industry for the digital future?

The DCSA will be relevant in all fields which are hard for a single carrier to handle by itself, such as safeguarding against cyberattacks, container tracking, port processes, hinterland connections and much more. Since our founding in April 2019, we have been able to convince nine of the top 10 shipping companies to become members. This means that the DCSA already covers 70 percent of global capacity. As an NGO we are independent. Trust and openness are essential. From Amsterdam, we coordinate with over 80 experts in our working groups developing IT-solutions for everyone and publish them as “open source” on our website. Everyone can use and rely on the standards we have developed. We exchange information with all relevant associations as well as with our members’ customers. The fact is that customers and terminals confront a problem because the different shipping companies have different IT connections. That’s something we want to improve.

Standards aren’t anything new. What exactly are you doing in terms of standardization?

There’s no shortage of standards among our members. Instead, it’s about their lack of using a uniform standard as well as doing so consistently. We agree on standards with our members so that the codes they use, such as for port terminals, can be easily and quickly identified globally and by everyone. These standards also enable data to be exchanged between systems. And, in addition to codes, these standards are also about the processes to keep these codes up to date. We call that “interoperability”.

For example, we are currently working on just-in-time arrival and on smart container-tracking devices. We want to find solutions, such as ones to make it possible to avoid waiting times for ships in port. All of that will benefit the environment and schedule reliability.

On the issue of sailing schedules, we and our members have agreed on what it means to say “a ship has arrived in port”. This sounds less complicated than it actually was. After all, there are several possible points at which this could be. In January, we have published our first interface standard for Track & Trace. The goal here is to provide the route plan, already-reached segments and possible changes in a uniform manner. This will enable customers to use a uniform interface for all shipping companies.

Increased networking has also made systems more vulnerable. What role does cybersecurity play at the DCSA?

This is an exciting field, but our members also implement it in different ways. The IMO has stipulated that, as of January 2021, cyber-risk management systems have to be installed on board all ships in order to enhance the safety of the crew, environment and cargo as well as to minimise any collateral damage that might accompany an attack. We are now working on this challenge jointly and efficiently. Each carrier can decide for itself the maturity level it will have, but there is supposed to be a baseline level of security for everyone.

You studied physics. What attracted you to that field of study?

I actually wanted to become an inventor, and I thought the best way to do so was with a natural science. Working on new things, helping to shape topics – that’s what fascinated me. The approach we follow in physics is to describe reality using a model. That can explain a lot, but not everything. And that’s exactly what IT does, too: If we build a database, it will never capture all facets of reality. We have to focus on the essentials and, if necessary, reinvent the entire model.

IT is what eventually brought you to Hapag-Lloyd. Why?

I was attracted by the internationality and unavoidableness of shipping. I personally believe that we will still be the engine of globalisation in a few decades. Even if digitalisation is giving rise to questions related to networks, alternative drive technologies, 3D printing and so forth, the decisive factor is how quickly we react to changes and make adjustments.
In customer service for example technology has gotten a lot better now. Proactive communication and learning to solve problems quickly and in a cross-departmental manner is one of the goals of Hapag-Lloyd’s quality strategy. Thomas Elling, Senior Director Regional Sales & Customer Service, and his team have been advancing the “case management” via Salesforce in recent months.

Not everyone takes a positive view of digitalisation. It’s humanity versus technology. What messages would you have for those who are sceptical about the future?

Digitalisation isn’t something that can be stopped. What we’ve achieved today definitely won’t be enough. We still generate a huge amount of paper! We need to pick up the pace on these issues. The key will be intelligent data exchange using clearly defined standards. Simplicity and comparability, like those found on or similar websites, are appealing to customers. Using data to gauge how well you are doing and to constantly get better – that’s the way forward. We need precisely this combination: human intelligence bolstered by good artificial intelligence. In this case, technology offers an opportunity to reinvent yourself.

Source: Hellenic Shipping News