Export/Import Updates!
January 12, 2022

Digital Adoption in Shipping industry

Shipping industry is one of humanity’s most ancient industries, hauling merchandise across the high seas to power trade and commerce. It has been steadily building prosperity over the past several millennia in lands far and wide.

However, one trait of the industry has undesirably always stood out: resistance to change or slow to modernize. This frustration was famously vented by Malcolm P. McLean, who invented containerization method to replace snail paced break bulk loading regimen and hasten port side operations for all stakeholders to benefit immensely.

Despite witnessing this revolutionary change, most shipping lines continued to remain as mute spectators for the much needed next revolution even as banking, insurance, travel, education, telecom and other industries eagerly embraced information technology (IT) and digitalisation to grow.

Finally, realizing their fault, a bunch of shipping lines, MSC, Maersk, CMA CGM, Hapag-Lloyd, ONE, Evergreen, Yang Ming, HMM and ZIM, founded the Digital Container Shipping Association (DCSA) in April, 2019, aimed at establishing IT standards which will spark interoperability of technological solutions in an industry known for its plethora of steps and multiplicity of documentation.

DCSA’s mission is to facilitate digital connectivity coupled with smooth data communication for all stakeholders in the shipping industry. The two-year-old digital body is developing standards in coordination with member carriers who will play the crucial role of validating, aligning and agreeing to the standards for all others to adopt.

Its standards will cater to the most crucial needs of the shipping industry and will be freely available. These will propel shipping lines and ecosystem partners to achieve faster time to market, fast track new products and services innovation and also slash technology costs.

Driven by openness and collaboration, DCSA, which is shaping the digital future of container shipping is led by Thomas Bagge in the role of chief executive officer, Henning Schleyerbach (chief operating officer) and Ellen Sun (chief marketing officer).

As part of this digital transformation journey, the digital body is working on standards under initiatives such as industry blueprint, data& interfaces, interoperability for smart container solutions (IoT), Just-in-Time-Port-Call, eDocumentation and cyber security, including ushering in several benefits for shippers and freight forwarders. The digital body also collaborated with swaggerhub and github with its solutions for the convenience of stakeholders.

  • Industry blueprint
  • Data& interfaces
  • Interoperability for smart container solutions
  • Just-in-time-port-call
  • eDocumentation
  • Cybersecurity

Industry blueprint

DCSA released an exhaustive list of freely downloadable standards under the industry blue print (IBP) initiative, which area set of recommended current state standards for the procedures deployed in container shipping.

After mapping the commonly used processes in container shipping, starting from carrier booking to container return, the digital association’s founding members created a common view across the industry.

With this move, DCSA envisages to see that all carriers will begin to use these standards today and later sync them to forthcoming digitalisation and standardisation initiatives.

IBP emerged after bringing key stakeholders and subject matter experts together from DCSA’s founding members to share their non-commercial processes, resulting in identifying common and conflicting procedures across shipping lines to construct a baselined standard.

Later, this standard was validated, aligned and concurred by all carriers to come out as the first fruits of DCSA’s combined effort, outlining standards for processes, milestones and messages in a container’s overall journey, incorporating high level process maps under three types of journeys: shipment, equipment and vessel, including what is the approach to deal with Exception Handling.

Data & Interfaces

Under Data & Interfaces initiative, DCSA created standards for Track and Trace, Operational Vessel Schedules, and Load List and Bay Plan.

Track and Trace (T&T)

As part of Track and Trace, the digital association created standards for customers to track containers under the five general shipment phases of pre-shipment, pre-ocean, ocean, post-ocean and post shipment with continuous visibility.

T&T standards contain a set of common procedures and also data and interface standards which carriers, shippers and third parties can implement for cross-carrier ship tracking.

On implementation, these standards will empower supply chain participants and customers to communicate digitally with all shipping lines in one unified way.

T&T definitions are the same for all users, based on the IBP published by the digital association which incorporated consistent vocabulary as well as proposed current state standards for industry procedures.

DCSA synced T&T standards to the United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT) standards for protecting investments, including streamlining communication among all supply chain participants.

Further, DCSA has also published T&T Application Programming Interface (API) definitions on Swagger Hub open source API development platform to enable carriers to deploy these definitions for quick implementation of DCSA standards compliant APIs for customer facing T&T events.

The digital association created these definitions after careful design considerations and adopting best practices from multiple shipping lines to make sure APIs output is consistent with the logical flow of shipment events.

On implementation, APIs will power shippers to query carrier systems from any existing technology platform to obtain T&T data in a common and easily comprehensible format. Additionally, DCSA made documentation with versioning guidance available at GitHub.

Highlighting the benefits of digitalisation, Niels Nuyens, DCSA’s programme director said T&T helps shippers to get real time visibility of their cargo with the availability of data and enables tracking and tracing of shipments for better operational activities.

Standardised T&T rules will also address issues faced by shippers when they consign cargo in multiple carriers as each carrier employ sits own set of different procedures which are nonidentical.

Nuyens noted that a survey conducted by the digital association found that cargo visibility was the top priority of shippers and 70 percent of the respondents were willing to switch to service providers offering better cargo visibility.

He noted this is where DCSA’s T&T standards and API specifications, freely available on the digital association’s portal, can do the needful, even as many carriers adopted and others are in the testing stage. 

Operational vessel schedules

DCSA published a set of freely downloadable standards for operational vessel schedules for shipping lines, designed to automatically share vessel schedule data between carriers and operational service providers.

Deploying these standards, carriers can digitally publish their schedules which can be easily subscribed to by their vessel sharing agreement (VSA) partners and operational service providers can subscribe to their feed to automatically receive updates as well as retrieve updates when needed.

This move enables inter-regional vessel schedule transparency, better planning and optimisation of shipping activities and improving efficiency.

Along with updates to DCSA industry blue print and DCSA operational vessel schedule(OVS) standards publication, it also includes information model with OVS schedule definitions, process maps and terms, including OVS data interface standards and associated reading guides.

The freely downloadable material helps stakeholders to understand how to digitise OVS based on common understanding of data and processes deployed in scheduling, which brings in simplicity, timelines, consistency and interoperability in vessel schedule solutions across the industry.

Besides publishing standards, the digital association also published OVS Open API specifications on SwaggerHub open source API development platform, where future updates will also appear.

Similarly, documentation and versioning guidance is available on GitHub, which carriers can use to quickly implement DCSA standard-compliant APIs for OVS while DCSA API design principles will be published soon.

Load list and bay plan

Aimed at establishing standards and timelines for communication of container volume and stowage details between Vessel Sharing Agreement (VSA)partners, terminals and ports, DCSA published the load list and bay plan.

Embracing these standards will help stakeholders to maximize cargo operations efficiency and facilitate better planning of connected shipping activities.

Load list and bay plan definitions recommend standards for digital communication of cargo information for enabling more efficient and predicable port calls.

Load list and bay plan is the first in a series of standards releases which directly addresses cargo operations even as standards aimed at addressing issues such as empty handling and dangerous goods can be expected later.

Interoperability for smart container solutions(DCSA IoT Standards)

For uninterrupted transfer of relevant information on the whereabouts and status of containers and their contents at any point during the container journey, the digital association has designed the DCSA IoT standards, which can be deployed at massive scale to obtain interoperable smart container solutions.

Vessel operators and owners, ports, container yards, terminals, inland logistics providers and third parties can implement these solutions, which will also eradicate blind spots during container tracking, monitoring and controlling.

Under this initiative, DCSA planned standards releases to address interoperability needs of reefer containers, dry containers and RFID registration of these containers, which will focus on network infrastructure connectivity, data structure and handling, physical device specifications and security and access management.

These standards complement with UN/CEFACT interoperability standards, which comprise the Multi Modal Transport Data Reference Model and the Smart Container Business Specifications. The digital association also published standards under IoT gateway connectivity interface and IoT remote reefer container monitoring on board.

IoT gateway connectivity interface

DCSA designed standards for industry-wide interoperability between IoT devices, which also includes smart containers and the supporting network infrastructure under IoT gateway connectivity interface.

These standards will lay the foundation for an interoperable framework of smart container solutions, syncing with internal radiocommunication protocols for IoT gateways, dry containers, RFID registrations of these containers and also addressing network connectivity requirements for reefer containers.

Enabled by these standards, supply chain players and shipping lines can offer uninterrupted flow of relevant information on the whereabouts of containers anytime during their journey.

Internal radio standards are freely available for gateways on vessels, on land, at event locations and inside handheld devices. These power stakeholders to achieve interoperability between smart container solutions at radio interface level.

IoT - Remote reefer container monitoring on board

Considering the time consuming and repetitive physical nature of monitoring reefer controller units while shipping perishable goods in reefer containers, DCSA released IoT remote reefer container monitoring on board standards to make life easy for vessel crews.

Regular monitoring and handling of reefer containers is key for safely transporting perishable goods, which requires the vessel crew to physically check the reefer controller units many times while sailing.

IoT remote reefer container monitoring on board standards offer control of all the necessary settings embedded in a reefer container, avoiding scope for human error which occurs during physical checks.

These standards define a minimum set of data elements which need to be shared with vessel crews to enable remote monitoring of smart reefer containers aboard a ship. Sharing of this data is the basic building block of interoperability and collaboration.

Just-in-Time Port Call

DCSA’s just-in-time-port call programme aims to cut carbon dioxide emissions by facilitating vessel speed optimization, improving schedule reliability and raise overall operational efficiency.

The digital association published standards for shipping lines, terminals and ports to automatically share data in a uniform manner. These open standards are consistent with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and International Task Force Port Call Optimisation (ITPCO)just in time (JIT)arrival guide standards.

Under JIT port call programme, DCSA and member carriers published port call data definitions, interface standards and messaging API specifications for as many as 50 event timestamps.

These will address the six major facets involved in a typical port call: Berth arrival planning, pilot boarding place arrival and service planning, pilot boarding place and berth arrival execution, start cargo operations and services, services and port departure planning and port departure execution.

Wider acceptance and adoption of these standards will help the shipping industry to achieve digital, global and transparent just-in-time port call ecosystem.

With DCSAJIT port call standards, shipping lines can incorporate digital port call planning and optimal resource utilisation, including enabling container ships to optimise their steaming speed to reduce fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

The digital association teamed up with ITPCO1 and IMO2 for offering a global framework that preserves investments and sync port call data definitions to the current standards.


Shipping industry is a document heavy industry. Multiplicity of documents at every stage of export and import overwhelm stakeholders. Aimed at solving this issue and simplifying shipping documentation through paperless trade, DCSA introduced eDocumentation standards, including electronic bill of lading.

To totally digitise container shipping industry, all the documents must take an electronic avatar, leading to better trade experience for all stakeholders, regulators and customs authorities.

Paperless eDocumentation will power customs authorities to improve their targeting, container carriers to become more efficient and facilitate vendors to sell their solutions to a greater number of industry participants.

As part of eDocumentation, DCSA embarked upon standardising language and definitions of all shipping documents to power digitalisation and promote eDocuments acceptance by regulators, banks and insurers.

Open source standards for necessary legal terms and conditions, and definitions and terminology to facilitate communication among customers, container carriers, regulators, financial institutions and other industry stakeholders are freely available at DCSA.

Electronic bill of lading

The digital association along with its members published data and process standards for submitting shipping instructions and issuance of the bill of lading (B/L),envisaged to enable acceptance and adoption of electronic bill of lading (eBL) by insurers, banks and regulators, there by unifying communication between these stakeholders involved in a transaction.

eDocumentationis a multi-year digitalisation initiative for end to end container shipping documentation. Future releases of this initiative will comprise data and process standards for booking request and confirmation, and arrival notice and release shipment.

Cyber Security

Shipping industry is also vulnerable to cyber attacks in this age of ubiquitous IT systems, automation and connected operations. To address these cyber risks and help the industry meet the deadlines set up by the IMO, DCSA ushered in the cyber security initiative and standards.

IMO adopted a resolution that cyber risks should be addressed in safety managements systems by the first annual verification of a company’s document of compliance starting from January 1, 2021, which indicates that all carriers must prepare an implementation framework to counter cyber risk aboard in 2020.

DCSA cyber security initiative will enable framework creation and offer best practices guidance to shipping lines. Implementation of this initiative consists of a series of practical recommendations in consonance with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) framework, there cognised authority on cyber risk management.

Under cyber security standards, DCSA aims to facilitate vessel readiness for the IMO Resolution MSC.428 (98) on maritime cyber risk management in safety management systems.

This provides all shipping companies with a common language, including a manageable task-based approach. Target audience includes cybersecurity leads at shipping lines overseeing fleet-wide cyber security aboard the vessels.

DCSA cyber security standards will complement existing ship safety management systems (SMS) by providing additional guidance on cyber aspects, including IT such as computers, electronic manuals, network and applications as well as engine controls, ECDIS, onboard measurement and control systems, PLCs and remote support for engines under operational technology.

With the cyber security initiative, DCSA envisages that carriers will implement DCSA guide fleet-wide even at sea, when moored or berthed, which is consistent with BIMCO and NIST frameworks.

Shipping lines can freely download guide for cyber security to enable vessel crews to mitigate risk of cyber incidents, contain damage and also recover when attacked.

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Editorial Team
Editorial Team
Customer success manager
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