In the days of old, when men were bold, tally clerks counted sacks as they were loaded onto ships, and seafarers hauled on sheets and braces to trim sails after every course alteration or wind shift. Now, seafarers adjust the autopilot from the comfort of the bridge, and cameras and RFID chips track containers being loaded and discharged. However, despite the changes across the maritime industry and the world at large, many maritime business processes have changed very little – until now.
With process automation technologies, maritime organisations can automate processes that were, until recently, the sole domain of humans. Robotic process automation (RPA) can carry out simple, rules-based tasks, while business process automation (BPA) can optimise and automate more complex multi-step processes. Digital process automation (DPA) is the next logical step.
What is digital process automation (DPA)?
DPA is often confused with BPA. While BPA automates manual business processes into digital workflows, DPA takes automation one step further: it automates the remaining digital workflows that still require human interaction. For example, BPA can automate the invoicing and payment processes between shippers and carriers, but DPA can also automate the approval and feedback processes that involve human decisions and interactions.
By eliminating bottlenecks and reducing friction in the workflow, DPA enables organisations to transform and elevate their business processes. In the maritime industry, DPA could not only optimise but also revolutionise critical operations.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of DPA in maritime?
Every technology has its pros and cons, and DPA is no exception. The main advantages of DPA in maritime include:
- Around-the-clock operations: shipping is a 24/7 operation, but shift work has negative consequences for humans. Fatigue leads to human errors, but computers don’t need sleep.
- Efficiency: DPA can streamline operations such as cargo tracking, compliance checks, and documentation.
- Accuracy: computers have the edge over humans when it comes to accuracy, particularly in safety and compliance.
- Cost savings: DPA reduces the need for manual labour and cuts down on potentially expensive errors.
Unfortunately, nothing is perfect. As it evolved from BPA, DPA’s disadvantages are very similar to those of BPA, including:
- Initial investment: DPA implementation can be complex, time-consuming, and costly.
- Technical challenges and risks: relying on automated systems for essential tasks can reduce resilience to system failure or compromise.
- Human challenges: fear of job losses and reluctance to train on new systems can lead to staff resistance.
How can the maritime industry use DPA?
As a relatively new technology, DPA is not as common as RPA, particularly in maritime; however, it is gaining ground, increasing competitiveness, enhancing operational efficiency, and helping to move towards decarbonisation. Businesses are starting to introduce DPA for processes which require human interaction, such as customer onboarding, procurement, and order fulfilment.
Together, the combination of RPA and DPA could usher in a new era of efficiency and competitiveness. By combining RPA and DPA, repetitive and time-consuming tasks can be automated within DPA’s optimised processes, leading to greater productivity, cost savings, and operational excellence.
In the coming era of digital transformation, maritime organisations must strike a balance between harnessing the power of automation and maintaining the human touch. Only by doing so can the industry stay competitive, while also staying true to the industry’s traditions of safety, reliability, and excellence.