Wspólnotowy Serwis Informacyjny Badan i Rozwoju - CORDIS

Teleinformatics links between ports and their partners

The Internet could revolutionise the European port community whose efficiency has been hampered by poor use of information systems, according to the final report recently issued by COST Action 330.

The report shows that the use of teleinformatics systems could improve the com...
The Internet could revolutionise the European port community whose efficiency has been hampered by poor use of information systems, according to the final report recently issued by COST Action 330.

The report shows that the use of teleinformatics systems could improve the competitiveness of port authorities by speeding up the delivery of goods and persons, especially in the smaller ports. However several obstacles stand in the way of the rapid acceptance and implementation of such systems, including prohibitive costs, lack of IT awareness and incompatible systems.

A survey of 77 sea ports and 29 inland waterway ports in 1995/96 showed that a 'real telematics gap' existed between the small and large ports, and recommended that national governments and the European Commission support IT training programmes and the harmonisation of operations.

However the Internet revolution has altered the situation radically. Since the survey took place in 1996, port communities have begun using the Internet to the extent it may take over from traditional communication systems such as EDI (electronic data interchange).

Chairman of the Management Committee Mariella Stumm said: 'Modern information systems can improve the passage of containers and goods in the ports, especially when these systems are connected to customs and other transport operators. This would increase their efficiency, but our survey showed the information systems weren't being used enough.

'It showed all kinds of obstacles against the adoption of information systems. Smaller ports don't have the support or the knowledge to implement them, and most of the programmes available to them are too ambitious for their uses.

The report stated the greatest barrier against the development of telematics systems was their cost. Old software, old hardware, low levels of IT support staff and a lack of awareness about how teleinformatic links might support the management of the port were also significant deterrents.

The situation is heightened by the lack of interoperability between ports, many of which use different and incompatible systems. The report found that the technological hurdles that have long prevented data exchanges are difficult to overcome, involving harmonising character codes, different file formats, different operating systems and data communication procedures.

Most large ports have implemented a PCS (port community system) by sharing information resources and teams of computer experts. However such systems are costly to implement and require commitment from all partners which is often quite difficult to achieve.

'The big ports have their own cargo communication systems,' said Mrs Stumm, 'but their systems cannot be exported because all the different European systems have different ways of management, and it is difficult to have common thinking about cargo communication systems for all ports.

'But when we did the survey in 1996 it was at the beginning of the Internet boom. At this time very few ports were using the Internet, but the situation has changed remarkably since then.'

A total of 2,700 copies of the report have been distributed among academics, businessmen and others working in the industry. Head of the project Mr Pekka Koskinen who recently spoke about the report at the European Inland Waterway Association's annual meeting in The Netherlands, said: 'Our report has been generally well received.

'The major ports have any information system you could dream of, but the smaller ports are still fighting to have their basic systems, and it is good that this is recognised.'

One of the recipients, Stora Enso manager Luc de Pestel, whose company trades forestry products through ports all over the world, said: 'It's good to have a general overview so we can decide which ports it is best to do business with. Something like this survey cannot be done by a company of group of companies alone. It needs an organisation like the European Union to provide this type of general information for the wider use of the industry.'

Source: COST Transport Secretariat

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