Intelligent supply chain and ports: Atos on the present and future of digital transformation in port operations

Applying emerging technologies to supply chains  

In a wide-ranging discussion, Atos Technology and Innovation Lead Erwin Dijkstra and his colleague Bas Stroeken, Scrum Master & Pre-sales Consultant – Intelligent Supply Chain, shared a few key insights into their company’s strategy on integrating emerging technologies, such as AI, blockchain and IoT, into maritime port ecosystems, highlighting Atos’ current clients and use cases. Noting that Atos’ client base includes airports as well as traditional supply chain solutions buyers (such as manufacturers), Dijkstra and Stroeken described Atos’ differentiation as its ability to integrate across an entire enterprise and ecosystem, optimize around delivery times, and build a platform for intelligent supply chain management, which Atos then manages as a service to the client. A critical factor for Atos’ clients, according to Dijkstra and Stroeken, has been the company’s in-depth examination of actors and roles within an enterprise and how those actors will engage with the platform. Various roles require different information and options in the event of an out-of-plan event, making the ideal platform more than simply a collection of data points and alerts. As Stroeken explained, real-time insights are meaningless if everything is going according to plan (think Homer Simpson working at the nuclear power plant — all good, until it is not). When something deviates from expectations, multiple actors need to be alerted, informed and given options for remediation. With multiple actors involved, real-time information becomes critical as one person’s decision nearly always impacts options or needed actions for others in the ecosystem.

Bringing the discussion back to the broader enterprise level, Stroeken made two observations that resonated with TBR. First, professionals tasked with managing supply chains within many enterprises are not deeply experienced in AI, which necessitates Atos acting as the bridge between the technology and the humans who need to understand it, deploy it and benefit from it. Second, as Stroeken said, “Collaboration begins with the proper sharing of data,” which may be a perfect mantra for digital transformation and emerging technologies.

Atos provided two additional use cases, both tied to port operations, specifically customs, an area in which Atos has expertise. In the first, natural language processing and AI contribute to understanding the text in customs forms, improving and expediting the classification process. In more colorful terms, Dijkstra explained how a drone could be classified as a toy, a military use item, or a camera, all with different tax implications, creating a need for assistance among customs agents to get the classifications correct. In a second use case, Atos helps cargo screeners operate more efficiently and with fewer random checks by scanning containers with X-ray machines and using AI to match the images to the manifests. In both cases, Atos operates as the integrator, bringing together various emerging technologies and providing the platform for clients’ continued operations.

TBR and Atos also discussed blockchain as a tool across the maritime shipping and supply chain ecosystems. While the well-known benefits of increased transparency and a more level playing field appeal to enterprises across the shipping world, including manufacturers, ports and shipping operators, Atos’ role primarily comes through facilitating adoption and overcoming the human barriers, such as lack of trust in the technology and uncertainty around data-sharing (see the collaboration mantra above). In TBR’s view, blockchain solutions apply more readily to supply chain than nearly any other use case outside of bitcoin. Atos’ approach — which assumes the technology has been proved secure and reliable, but the humans need coaching — reflects what TBR believes will be the long-term reality for blockchain.

We continue to be intrigued by ports as test beds for emerging technologies and as starter kits for large-scale smart cities. Following a presentation on IoT by Dijkstra, TBR analysts discussed intelligent supply chain solutions, ports and emerging technologies with Dijkstra and Stroeken, including details about Atos’ use cases and current offerings. The following reflects that discussion as well as TBR’s analysis of the consulting and IT services opportunities around emerging technologies, including insights from TBR’s Digital Transformation portfolio and Management Consulting Benchmark.

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