Building a Smarter Port with Wireless Connectivity and Mobility

2016 International Innovations Awards submission, Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA)

BACKGROUND 

Singapore is highly competitive and efficient as one of the world’s busiest ports in terms of shipping tonnage since 1982. The country’s Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) has a focus on customer service and ensuring that the MPA remains competitive in the maritime industry. The organisation maintains an imperative of continuously improving service delivery standards through innovation and systems upgrading, utilising the latest technologies to better serve stakeholders.

Before this project, Internet access was available to vessels operating in the Port of Singapore only through 3G networks or satellite communications (SATCOM). This was due to the limited terrestrial network coverage of the port waters – unlike on land where buildings and other structures were available to install communication antennas.

SATCOM’s drawbacks included bulky equipment setups, high usage costs, and limited bandwidth, making it unattractive for use by small ships and harbour craft. Though 3G was low-cost, there was limited 3G coverage in the port waters and insufficient bandwidth to support the business needs of vessels. Hence most vessels rely on traditional telecommunications, such as VHF, voice calls and short message services to conduct their businesses in the port and communicate with MPA.

The lack of Internet connectivity also stifled the development and adoption of innovative mobile technology in the maritime industry. Further, there was no platform for the maritime community and IT solution providers to come together and contribute their ideas for mobile app development. These factors led to a noticeable lack of mobile contents for the maritime industry.

APPROACH

A series of planned and co-ordinated initiatives between MPA and industry were launched in order to realise the vision of a connected Maritime Singapore:
  • Setting Up 4G/Wi-Fi Infrastructure
  • Smart Port Hackathon
  • Launch of myMaritime@SG Mobile App
  • Call for Proposals (CFP) for Business-to-Business (B2B) Mobile App Development
4G/Wi-Fi Infrastructure 
A 4G cellular network infrastructure to provide the maritime community with low-cost, high bandwidth and secured wireless broadband access in the port waters with coverage up to 15km from shore was commissioned in March 2015 in collaboration with a telecommunications service provider. For shore-based connectivity at MPA’s ferry terminals, Wi-Fi infrastructure was set up in July 2015 to provide free Wi-Fi services to those who use or work at the ferry terminals.

The 4G network has opened research and development (R&D) and testing opportunities to try new  technologies, such as long range Wi-Fi technology beyond the current 50-100m range for cargo terminals in PSA and Jurong Port.

Smart Port Hackathon 
MPA engaged the community to share data and generate interest in developing more mobile content and applications by organising the Smart Port Hackathons in July 2014 and August 2015. Each event attracted more than 120 participants from the maritime industry, ICT sector, undergraduates, data scientists and members of the public who brainstormed and co-created innovative mobile solutions to address challenges of the industry. A total of 46 projects on productivity, efficiency and sustainability were generated, with several subsequently accepted by maritime organisations for further R&D, with MPA providing funding support for the projects. One such project is an application to predict the berthing time of ships to improve the efficiency of berth allocation at terminals and minimise congestion in port waters. Another project is an application to monitor and track the operational efficiencies of Singapore flagged vessels.

Launch of myMaritime@SG Mobile App 
In March 2015, MPA launched the myMaritime@SG mobile app – a first in the world mobile app platform for the maritime industry that provides a comprehensive range of information services and transactional applications. The timely availability of information allows maritime service providers to effectively manage and plan their resources and provide prompt and efficient services on the move.

As of early 2016, myMaritime@SG had 14 transactional and information e-services and MPA will continue to enhance the app to include a comprehensive list of transactional-based e-Services for Maritime Singapore.

Call for Proposals (CFP) for Business-to-Business (B2B) Mobile App Development
To further seed smart and innovative maritime B2B mobile apps development by the industry, MPA and the Singapore Shipping Association launched a CFP for mobile app development in March 2015 with themes on enhancing maritime logistics operations, ship-to-shore communications, and remote monitoring of marine operations. 

$2 million has been set aside to support good project proposals under the CFP, with three of the five proposals received being accepted. The three projects, ‘Automated Workboat Workflow System’, ‘On Demand Video via Satellite and 4G LTE for Marine Vessel Operations Monitoring’ and ‘Design and ‘Development of Mobile Platform for Radar Remote Control and Monitoring with Radar Display’ have commenced.

MPA is the first among the maritime authorities around the world to adopt such an approach in building a connected maritime ecosystem to enable and speed up the adoption of wireless technology. 

The contextualisation and conceptualisation of our project required great efforts in research work and collaboration with various stakeholders, locally and internationally. Our stakeholders’ needs play an important part in producing a meaningful end product, besides ensuring its effectiveness in efficiency to improve our customers’ experience with us.

For this project to be successful, engagement with the maritime industry stakeholders is important as illustrated below:
  • Conducting pilot trials with stakeholders to gather feedback on the coverage of the LTE/4G networking port water and responding proactively to their feedback to ensure their voices were heard. This was part of our effort in building or improving the awareness of our stakeholders, both internally and externally.
  • Working very closely with the maritime industry to develop and test the myMaritime@SG mobile app. This was part of our efforts in providing assurance to our industry partners and stakeholders that we were serious in providing them with excellent service through innovation and fulfilling our users’ needs.
  • Organising the Smart Port Hackathons to bring together the maritime industry and public in co-creating innovative solutions that solve the challenges faced by the industry. This is part of our effort in acknowledging the needs of our stakeholders and leveraging knowledge management with differences in experiences, while maximising exploration of possibilities.
  • Encouraging solution providers to work together with maritime organisations to develop innovative mobile apps for the maritime industry through the CFP for B2B mobile app development. This was part of our effort in putting quality service assurance into action, while encouraging sharing of knowledge and skills internally and externally.
Aside from inter-departmental and inter-agency collaboration, a cross-functional team was formed comprising of staff from the Information Technology, Research and Technology, Marine Environment and Safety, Hydrographic, and Corporate Communications departments. The team reported regularly to management on the progress of the initiatives and sought endorsements and approvals when needed. Everyone, including senior management, played a crucial role in ensuring excellence in service delivery and the successful completion of initiatives to build a Smart Port with wireless connectivity and mobility.

There were a total of 300 stakeholders engaged and involved throughout this project journey. Their roles consisted of providing feedback, ideas, testing of solutions, evaluating the possible consequences or impacts at the various stages, and building awareness of the initiatives with other stakeholders.

MPA aims to promote good governance with our best practice and encourage knowledge exchange amongst governments and beyond with our innovative project through our collaboration and partnership. For instance, MPA has been in discussion with the National Environment Agency to share and exchange data to improve the service delivery to the maritime industry. In the partnership, MPA will provide visibility information within Singapore Port Waters to the National Environment Agency, and this information can be made  available via their website and mobile app. NEA will provide MPA with weather information so that this information could be made available in myMaritime@SG.

MPA is constantly adapting to changes in the local and global landscape to tackle issues such as increased competition from regional ports. This project is a good example of how MPA drives the mobile technology in the maritime industry to transform Maritime Singapore into a Smart Port. MPA is aware that mobile technology is a key transformation platform to maintain the premier global hub port status of Maritime Singapore and enhance competitiveness in terms of greater productivity and efficiency. This is in line with one of the Public Service’s objectives of anticipating changes and responding to the needs of the people and the success of Singapore.

RESULTS/OUTCOMES/IMPACTS

Through meaningful collaboration with inter-agencies, connecting with innovation practitioners, social entrepreneurs and members of the general public, MPA was able to achieve $99,600,000 and 16,513 hours of savings per year.

Intangible achievements as confirmed by stakeholders through surveys or interviews are as follows:
  • Raised productivity and promoted service excellence
  • Encouraged public-private partnership
  • Promoted data sharing
  • Enhanced crews’ welfare
  • Transformed maritime Singapore into a smart port
  • Inspired original and transferable innovation
  • Promulgated service excellence and teamwork
  • Encouraged inter-department and inter-agencies collaboration
  • Sustained stakeholders interest and/or motivation
Collaboration and engagement with stakeholders was also proven effective as MPA achieved 100% buy-in from them. Their satisfaction with the project was evaluated via face-to-face interviews, which allowed clarification of any doubts or issues raised by our stakeholders. Our stakeholders consist of members from the National Environment Agency, Singapore Shipping Association, technology and solutions providers, data scientists and members of the public.

The following awards were the additional achievements that were received through this project with good leadership and support provided by management in cultivating innovation:
  • The Team Excellence Symposium    2015, organised    by Singapore Productivity Association, was held from 28 September to 1 October 2015. The team achieved a Gold Award.
  • The International Convention on Quality Control Circle (ICQCC) 2015 was held in Korea, Gyeongnam from 5 to 8 October 2015. The team won a Bronze Award.
  • This project has been nominated for the PS21 ExCEL Team Award – Most Innovative Project/Policy Award. This award recognises projects and policy initiatives that best embody the spirit of continuous learning and innovation.
This project has enabled MPA to achieve its objectives to enhance productivity, reliability and efficiency of business operations, improve safety standards and create new business opportunities for Maritime Singapore through wireless connectivity and mobility. The deployment efforts, which involved planning, coordination and implementation of the individual tasks, allowed MPA to build an ecosystem of a connected Maritime Singapore. Together with the concerted efforts of the maritime industry, it generates new opportunities for the development and use of online contents and applications, which would otherwise be not feasible. This has further enhanced MPA’s vision of maintaining the premier global hub port status of Maritime Singapore and the competitiveness through higher levels of productivity, efficiency and service standards.

EVALUATION/LESSONS LEARNED/UNEXPECTED FINDINGS

To ensure that the project is sustainable in the long run, the team carried out the following actions:

Obtain Management’s Support
The team reported to management on the progress and effectiveness of the project and sought their endorsement. The new procedure was documented in the work manual for employees’ reference.

Regular Reviews with Stakeholders
The team held regular meetings with the stakeholders to review the user friendliness and areas of improvement for the myMaritime@SG mobile app.

Continuous Testing and Improvement
With vast area of port waters to be covered and limited offshore and onshore sites for the installation of telecommunication base stations, it was a daunting task to provide good 4G/LTE network coverage for the entire port waters. MPA together with a telecommunication service provider managed to overcome this challenge by conducting many rounds of testing and improvements. To validate the results, MPA invited several maritime organisations to participate in the pilot trials. The good results and feedback from the pilot trials gave MPA and the service provider the confidence to launch the LTE/4G service for the port waters.

Communication and Transparency
One of the key obstacles in MPA organising the Smart Port Hackathon was getting industry partners to share their commercial data for the participants to analyse and develop prototypes. Their main concern was the confidentiality and security of their data. To overcome this, all data was anonymous such that it remained useful for the purpose of analysis while not revealing the confidentiality of information. MPA also invited the partners to verify the anonymise data before releasing it to the participants. On top of this, all data was stored in a secured data sandbox, and every participant had to register for an account and sign a non-disclosure undertaking in order to access the data. All data was deleted and access to the data sandbox was also removed within 24 hours after the completion of the hackathon. With these data protection measures, MPA managed to convince the industry partners to share their data for the hackathon.

NEXT STEPS AND CONCLUSION

Following the launch of the 4G/LTE connectivity in port waters, there was feedback from the maritime industry to provide free Wi-Fi services at port terminals to complement the 4G/LTE infrastructure. MPA heeded the call and proceeded to set up free Wi-Fi zones in three MPA-managed terminals. The project started in April 2015 and was successfully implemented on 1 July 2015. This additional service further enhanced the mobility and user experience for those who worked at the ferry terminals, those using the terminals as transit points, and harbour craft operators using the berths.

In December 2015, MPA started an initiative to fund the cost of providing and installing AIS-B transponders and an Electronic Chart System (ECS) for all harbour craft and pleasure craft to enhance navigation safety and security within the port of Singapore. The availability of the 4G/LTE and free Wi-Fi services had greatly facilitated MPA’s rollout as it enabled craft owners to obtain updates to the ECS easily within Singapore Port Waters.

In addition, the 4G/LTE infrastructure opens up R&D and opportunities to test new technologies, such as TV White Space to increase the range for Wi-Fi at sea and mesh networks for port waters and terminals.

To enable MPA’s Port Operation Control Centre (POCC) to operate more efficiently and to reduce the amount of radio communications between harbour craft and the control centre, a mobile app is currently being developed to enable harbour craft operators to report its ship movements to the control centre without the need to use radio communications. This will reduce the amount of radio communications between the harbour craft operator and enable the operators at POCC to focus on the navigational safety of ocean-going ships at high traffic intersections

MPA is the first among maritime authorities around the world to adopt an integrated strategic deployment approach of this project with concerted efforts of the maritime industry to build a connected maritime ecosystem that enables and speeds up the adoption of wireless technology.