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Breakbulk September 2019

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September 2019 | The Journal of Commerce 9 Breakbulk & Project Cargo a few. "You [would] have to take all of these elements and put them into one system," Bouwhuis said. XELLZ manages complex projects using its projeXsmart platform, a super-system that manages all the project's main and sub-events within one organized, overarching control center. "It's like a brain," Bouwhuis said. He and his team are now using projeXsmart to manage the early stages — from pre-engineering, budgeting, and procurement to data tracking — of a multi-billion-dollar European megaproject, not yet pub - licly announced. Information from many points, generated by an array of resources — automatic identification system (AIS), customs declarations, survey reports, radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, and other connected sensor devices, for example — feeds into the XELLZ brain via application program- ming interfaces (APIs). "We have mission control that makes sure data is fed in, analyzed, and put into projec- tions, such as when cargo will arrive at a job site," Bouwhuis said. The project owner requires all service providers to cooperate and share data. XELLZ is responsible for making sure all data, even when pulled automatically into the system by an API, is accurate, he said. "This takes manpower." With a centralized platform, information is no longer siloed in WHEN IT COMES to project cargo, some argue the idiosyncratic nature of the sector necessitates personal relation- ships and, as such, makes it impossible to truly digitize and automate via technology. Others argue this is an out-of-date — perhaps even slightly self-serving — narrative, insisting proj- ect transportation is as ripe for modern- ization as landline telephones or printed newspapers were 30 years ago. The truth likely lies somewhere in between. Experienced project cargo veterans say the sector is first about savvy relationship management, but the right technology could help bring some critical industry processes into the 21st century. There are many "soft spots" in project logistics, points at which the complexity of operations can make digitization — let alone automation — seem nearly impossible. There are countless ways that cargo owners configure requests for quotes (RFQs) for project transport, for example. Some RFQs spell out every detail, while others might only give a bare-bones description of a project's scope and the cargo involved. There are also myriad ways in which prospective service providers can respond. Their bids could be as large as a phone book, or as small as a few paragraphs, with little unifor- mity across companies and activities. Contracting also varies widely. Once contracts are signed and transport oper- ations are under way, there is a deluge of communications, documentation, certifications, permits, and reports that all must be mastered and managed. Given this massive amount of data going back and forth between shippers and their service providers, even those least interested in digi- tizing project cargo logistics see the benefits of technological tools that streamline and organize that infor- mation. On the flip side, even the most ardent proponents of digitiza- tion acknowledge that project cargo is inherently more complex — and therefore more difficult to automate — than conventional breakbulk or container shipping. The big 'brain' According to Peter Bouwhuis, pres- ident and CEO at Netherlands-based project manager XELLZ and managing director at trade association Project Freight Network (PFN) and the associ- ated education and events firm iBrab- ble, many project forwarders simply aren't interested in modernizing. But the real stumbling block is a lack of standardization within the industry. "There is not and never will be a project logistics standard," Bou- whuis told The Journal of Commerce. A concept such as TradeLens, the IBM and Maersk-led blockchain container shipping platform, works because it is focused on one repetitive element out of the entire supply chain, he said. By contrast, project cargo ship- ments are "never replicated, so they can't be treated like single transac- tions, as in TradeLens. In projects, shipments are never a one-document, one-transaction operation," said Bou- whuis, who spent many years work- ing for project carriers, forwarders, and cargo owners before opening his businesses. "The whole thing about digitization is that you have to box it into a standard before you can digitize it into a constant flow." To function properly, a project cargo version of TradeLens would have to make sense of not just container transport, but also barges, heavy-lift ships, self-propelled modular trans- porter (SPMTs), semi-submersibles, port terminals, and trucking, to name High-tech hesitance Resistance to change hindering digitization in project logistics By Janet Nodar The complexities of project cargo don't lend themselves to automation, but there are processes where digitization can prove useful "Project cargo shipments are never replicated; they can't be treated like single transactions."

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