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How to capture value from emerging technologies in shipping

Most large organizations are optimized for business as usual, and not set up to capture value from emerging technologies such as digital and AI. Most companies understand that these technologies will impact their industry, and that there is great potential in applying them, as well as great risk if they act complacent.

The shipping industry is no exception – an industry burdened by overcapacity, low freight rates, and high fuel prices. Many companies see digital and AI as the savior, and are increasingly directing their investments there. However, most companies are still hunting tangible results that directly affect the P&L. No company can do it alone, and the most successful companies realize the need to tap into a broad ecosystem of tech companies and startups to capture value in the industry. At Portchain, we believe in 5 core principles that enable small tech companies like ours to have significant impact and help large organizations capture tangible value from new advanced technologies.

Fine-tuned for business as usual

When it comes to cracking the code on how to apply digital and AI for operational impact, shipping is no different than other industries. From our combined 15 years working at McKinsey & Company prior to founding Portchain, we have worked with some the largest and most recognized transportation and logistics companies on exactly this: applying digital, data and advanced analytics to deliver operational results at unprecedented speeds.

From our experience, large corporations are well positioned for impact given their size and reach in the market, but often not well positioned to leverage emerging technologies for impact. Large corporations are made up of complex networks of stakeholders, internal rules, and politics across an array of silos. Management and employees alike are well trained and incentivized in delivering a set of well-defined products and/or services to their customers, all within a proven business model. As long as it is business as usual, this is a machine tuned to perfection, generally delivering strong results in a predictable market environment.

Disruptive technology waves

In recent years, new technology waves have swept over a number of industries with the potential to topple complacent corporations and create new market winners of the most adaptable companies. This happened in Telecom, and is happening in Finance and Banking at the moment. Shipping, along with many other industries, is at this multi-year inflection point, where digital technologies and AI are doing exactly that. Many of the industry leaders have started to invest heavily in digital. Just think of CMA CGM, Maersk, and PSA who have created digital incubators and corporate venture arms as a part of their strategy to adapt and leverage these technologies for impact.

It is encouraging to see that many large companies in the shipping industry are starting to invest in the impact potential of digital technologies and business models. Yet the key for success, where many companies have failed in the past, is in breaking down the big visions into concrete initiatives. A good question to ask is: What will you and your team practically do on Monday as the first step towards realizing your vision?

5 core principles for impact

At Portchain, we work according to 5 core principles that we know from experience enables a tech company like ours to have both rapid and large operational impact in shipping companies, and be a key part of their puzzle for operational value creation in digital and AI:

1. Ensure top management buy-in

If the initiative is not seen as a priority for top management, then the probability of failure increases significantly. Getting buy-in from top management will provide the necessary air cover to both allocate, shield, and expand resources linked to the initiative.

2. Clearly define success

Be crystal clear on what problem / source of waste you are targeting, and consequently what success would be. Evolve the success criteria as the initiative hits milestone after milestone i.e., earlier “simpler” milestones combined with later and more “advanced” milestones. It can be hard to attach clear KPIs to measure impact from the start, but try to do this as early as possible.

3. Start small and prove “the fundamentals”

Jointly define the minimum viable product (MVP) that would be a significantly better solution than status quo. What are the bare minimum requirements needed to demonstrate that the fundamentals of the proposed solution/concept works? Once the MVP is defined, prove impact in this narrowly scoped space quickly, with focus on your success criteria. 

4. Be pragmatic

Never expect a neatly packaged 100% solution from the start when you are applying the latest technologies such as digital and AI. Once an all-encompassing solution exists, it might already be too late. A key focus when working with startups and small tech companies is to always be pragmatic, and never lose focus of solving for operational impact – the rest is noise.

5. Scale with value

As the initiative / solution starts to demonstrate impact, expand the solution space and stakeholder involvement accordingly. As the fundamentals are proven, start expanding the impact area in the organization e.g., from one division or location to a handful, while continuously re-applying the points above.

Use AI to unlock more operational impact from your current equipment

At Portchain, we work with our clients according to this philosophy on a daily basis. We combine cutting edge mathematical optimization and machine learning with easy and intuitive cloud-solutions. Our two proprietary AI solutions for terminals and carriers unlock operational and financial value without the need to expand investments in physical infrastructure – ensuring that you always get the most out of what you already have. Visit us on to learn more.

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