SINGAPORE - A new digital infrastructure for the shipping industry aims to smooth out the kinks in cargo handling processes, anchoring ways for logistics players to optimise operations.
This could unlock more than US$150 million (S$202 million) of value for the supply chain ecosystem in Singapore each year, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Tuesday (July 13).
He hailed the service, called Singapore Trade Data Exchange, as a breakthrough for the industry, which is at present marked by "significant inefficiencies".
"Logistics players face frequent congestion at depots and warehouses," Mr Heng observed. "They are not able to fully plan due to limited visibility of where the cargo is in the supply chain."
In addition, shippers often have to complete multiple forms requiring similar pieces of information, while buyers are unable to accurately track their orders.
Having a common data infrastructure will allow firms to exchange information, giving them access to previously unavailable or hard-to-obtain data such as real-time cargo location.
This will help industry players optimise cargo handling and operations.
The new service, announced by Mr Heng at the Asia Tech x Singapore Summit, is the brainchild of the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) and the Alliance for Action on Supply Chain Digitalisation.
The alliance, which was set up last year, is led by PSA International group chief executive Tan Chong Meng and Trafigura Group Asia-Pacific chief executive Tan Chin Hwee.
At the summit, which is organised by the IMDA, Mr Heng also said that Singapore will roll out a $68.7 million programme for research and development efforts tied to future communications.
Artificial intelligence and cyber security for next-generation communications infrastructure, as well as pilot schemes, will be explored. Part of the money will go towards scholarships for those doing research in this area, Mr Heng said.
The scheme will also focus on building research links across borders as the resources that Singapore - as a small nation - can commit are modest, he added.
This will kick off with a partnership with Finland's 6G Flagship Programme, which is working on the next generation of wireless technology.
"Just like the Covid-19 virus, science knows no boundaries," Mr Heng observed. "While each of us can pursue research excellence individually, our efforts are greatly multiplied when we work together."
But even as Singapore works to break new ground in the digital realm, it cannot turn a blind eye to the social divides that may emerge as a result, he said.
Just as globalisation created opportunity but also widened inequality, the digital revolution will widen the digital divide if left to the natural order of things.
The pandemic has provided an early glimpse of this, he noted. "We must learn the past lesson of globalisation, and redouble our efforts to create a more inclusive digital future."
In Singapore, this is being done by promoting digital literacy in schools, ensuring workers are equipped with new skills, and helping small businesses go digital.
"Every time we conceptualise a new product or implement a new solution, we must think of how this can positively impact lives," Mr Heng said.
"We must think of who might be left behind, and how we can help them. We must think of how this can lead to a better future."
What is the Singapore Trade Data Exchange?
It is a platform for businesses in the supply chain industry to share data on trade flows, and is expected to be fully rolled out by early next year.
At present, the movement of goods is often marked by significant inefficiencies, with logistics players having only a limited knowledge of where the cargo is at any one time.
Information shared under the Singapore Trade Data Exchange (SGTraDex) will allow them to plan better and optimise the flow of goods from manufacturing sites, warehouses and ports.
It will also help firms to match trade data with actual physical trade flows. Being able to verify the authenticity of key information will help financiers fund trades with confidence.
SGTraDex will also help the bunkering industry - which involves the supply of fuel to ships - to digitalise documentation and processes.
The common data infrastructure is the brainchild of the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) and the Alliance for Action on Supply Chain Digitalisation.
The latter is chaired by PSA International group chief executive Tan Chong Meng and Trafigura Group Asia-Pacific chief executive Tan Chin Hwee.
Mr Tan Chong Meng said his organisation had been working to promote supply chain digitalisation with local and global partners before Covid-19 struck, and had met with "varying success".
He added that SGTraDex, which fosters a "stronger convergence of public-private interests and innovative fervour", will underpin the development and adoption of such efforts, which will enhance Singapore's position in global trade and supply chains.
Mr Tan Chin Hwee said: "We believe that SGTraDex is now well-positioned to play an important role in the future in strengthening Singapore's natural position as a hub for international trade and as a centre of excellence for cross-border supply chain finance."
Eleven organisations, including the IMDA, PSA International, Trafigura, banks and shipping firms, signed an agreement on Tuesday to anchor the partnership.