2020 has hardly been the year any of us expected. INFORM is no exception here, but despite the many trials and tribulations of 2020, we’ve come out the other end wiser and prepared to tackle 2021 head-on. That said, I believe it is worth looking at some of the things that have come to shape the year and, for better or worse, our industry and INFORM’s position in it.
A look at 2020 can’t avoid the elephant in the room. Globally, the impact of COVID-19 on our frontline healthcare workers can’t be understated. They are all heroes in my book. That said, 2020 showed us that there are other types of workers that are “essential” to keeping economies moving, and no surprise, logistics is one of them. While many of us have benefited from the increased safety of the home office, most port and terminal operators have gone to work day-in and day-out to ensure the flow of goods across our global supply chain. While we often debate the future of the new “normal” remote work, we have a long way to go in being able to offer these safer alternatives to our stevedores and equipment operators.
Looking more globally, there have been shifting trade flows where some regions are seeing decreases in numbers, and others are seeing their best years ever. Many experts aren’t predicting this to settle down to “normal” anytime soon, and some go so far as to suggest that unpredictability is the new normal. This poses a significant risk to the maritime and intermodal industries that have built their businesses on a certain degree of predictability – but those old weatherboard measures are falling by the wayside.
Asian Free Trade Agreement
The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) was signed by 15 Astral-Asian countries in mid-November. In an interview with Port Technology, I talked extensively about the projected trade shifts lying directly ahead of us. This is a major step that will likely see trade volumes within (and to) Asia increase. It is still quite early days to say whether other trade flows will decrease, but one might say the writing is on the wall.
We’re also seeing a sharp rise in investments in African ports, again, another region in the world that has traditionally seen lower trade volumes. But as noted in my PTI interview, the “African Bulge” is a well-documented trend spurred on by a rising middle class of young people who are poised to be major consumers. Again, it is still early days, but the impact on global trade routes should be part of your medium- and long-term planning.
Now more than ever, I’m convinced that the challenges our industry faces can be mitigated through technology. I appreciate this isn’t a popular statement. As an engineer myself, I love steel and concrete, but the simple fact is, they don’t respond well to change. Our typical planning, building, and return on investment cycles at ports must shift in the coming years to one that is based on appreciating the new normal. It must be one that includes unpredictability of trade volumes, trade flows, and asset availabilities. Instead of building a new yard block or buying more hardware, operators should be looking for solutions to leverage their current asset bases to their fullest. Optimization software, despite what you hear from some in our industry, is a proven solution to achieve these outcomes.
Diversity is Crucial
When you put together any work on diversity, you quickly realize that diversity means something different to everyone. That simple statement sheds light on the sheer scope of diversity. We knew that we wanted to build on our early success in 2019 in raising awareness of young professionals across maritime with a second initiative focused on gender.
With the cancellation of TOC Europe this year, we brought our Millennial in Maritime panel session debate into the digital world with TOC Digital and a series of #MiMini interviews. What could mix better than millennials and technology? And the mix certainly didn’t fail to deliver with a staggering 800% increase in turnout leveraging the digital medium over a live event! As we moved to continue building on the awareness of young professionals, we also started an interview series that are included in our TERMINALMAG. Keep your eyes open throughout the next year for some additional content here too.
I’m also extremely excited to be launching our Women in Maritime initiative as part of our new digital TERMINALMAG. When we started, we thought it would be difficult to find women willing to talk about how they got into the industry, what drives them, and what they see as our industry’s biggest opportunities. Boy, were we wrong! If you pull back the curtains a bit, there are women right across maritime, top to bottom, side to side, and their stories are truly inspirational. We’ve included the first round of those stories here and will continue to invest in bringing more of them to the forefront of our industry over the coming year.
Dr. Eva Savelsberg
Senior Vice President