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Operators of container supply chains have been urged to prepare for different future industry scenarios by embracing digitisation and focusing on trends at work in the B2C sector.

Presenting the TT Club’s analysis of box shipping 25 years from now, Brave New World – container transport in 2043, at last week’s TOC Container Supply Chain conference in Rotterdam, the insurance firm’s risk management director, Peregrine Storrs-Fox, said almost every respondent surveyed agreed that the industry would be transformed as a result of the digital revolution in wider society.

While envisaging four very different futures for the container transport industry over the next quarter-century, the report’s authors also suggest there are some actions shipping lines, terminals and forwarders can take today to prepare for the possible outcomes.

“One shift for container transport players would be to measure success not only by how well or inexpensively they have delivered their own services, but also how much they contribute towards optimising the end-to-end supply chain to the consumer’s benefit.

“Taking a holistic view is likely to reveal opportunities for additional efficiencies through ‘win-win’ collaborations with other players,” they write.

The scenarios sketched in the report include two underpinned by the advance of digital technology: Digital Reinvention and Digital Disruption, which “assume digital, data, and analytics will be the most important industry trend”.

The third and fourth – the Third Wave of Globalisation and Peak Container and Consolidation – focus on what could happen in terms of trade growth and foresee either a return to the accelerated volume growth of the 1990s and early 2000s, as developing nations in South Asia and Africa containerise, or a flatlining of volume growth as the industry hits “peak container”.

It adds: “In truth, the world to 2043 will probably adopt some characteristics of all of these scenarios, or surprise us with something entirely unexpected. The question then for industry players is how can one prepare for these unknowns and steer their businesses in the face of a range of scenarios?”

It further urges container supply chain operatives to monitor “trigger points”, digitise radically and automate to “cultivate a spirit of experimentation and innovation”.

It says: “Across our four futures, there are a number of ‘trigger points’ that a foresighted company might carefully monitor: infrastructure investment and unit-labour costs in major economies; the number of SMEs selling globally on e-commerce platforms; 3D printing adoption; venture-capital funding for container transport start-ups; the latest order for the next-largest ship; and the speed of adoption of digital platforms, among many others.”

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