Which Way Next? Digitization

Statement 1: The breakbulk and project cargo industry is underserved by sector-specific digitalization tools.

2020 has been a watershed year for the industry. The Breakbulk Editorial Advisory Board share their thoughts on a range of topics and where we go from here as the new year dawns.

Cover Story Introduction and Meet our Editorial Advisory Board Participants


Murray Cooper: “A Breakbulk Process Management Platform would add value to the execution of EPC (engineering, procurement and construction), renewables, mining, resources, infrastructure and capital projects sector.”

John Amos: “The industry by its nature is slow to adapt to digitization tools.”

Dennis Mottola: “Unfortunately, too few sector-specific digitalization tools have thus far been developed for managing breakbulk and project cargo work processes and data. However, I also believe that project cargo shippers have been slow to demand and adopt digitalization solutions.”

Margaret Vaughan: “Most tools available are geared toward ‘big box’ transportation models. Breakbulk cargo is not ‘routine’ enough, so technology has lagged.”

Dharmendra Gangrade: “Digitalization is still at a nascent stage in the project cargo industry compared with its peers in EPCs or heavy engineering goods, even though the processes and stakeholders are almost the same. This is mainly due to a strong belief among stakeholders that transaction/execution through relationships is more productive than tech-driven processes. I disagree with that, in fact I believe that transaction/execution with the support of digitalization builds strong relationships based on transparency.”

Jake Swanson: “The challenge for the project industry is the upfront and implementation costs for these types of tools. Projects are under intense pressure to meet budgets, and new technology development or implementation does not usually factor in. Both EPCs and logistics service providers need to be focused on technology development and innovation at the corporate level and find ways to invest and allocate resources to sector-specific digitalization tools.”

Samuel Holmes: “Most project logistics service providers (LSPs) utilize proprietary software or specific tools that are developed in-house. In general, the project cargo industry has been very slow to adapt to new technologies. This is partly due to LSPs and their investors not wanting to undertake the cost of investment because the ROI (return on investment) might not be attractive. A neutral party is needed to breach the technology gap. We are already seeing some progress in this direction. The technology needed to automate/digitalize the entire project logistics operation from planning to execution for a one-off shipment with single origin to project shipments with various dimensions/weight/origins already exists in other sectors. To provide a 21st century project logistics service for a modern business requires LSPs to recruit front-end and backend software engineers with Node JS/Angular/React Native and UI/UX skills to develop a robust and scalable web-based and mobile enterprise application.”

Ulrich Ulrichs: “The sector is overall too small, specialized and diverse to be ‘attractive’ for digitalization tools’ providers, and hence a lot of companies have to rely on tools developed in-house.”


Johan-Paul Verschuure: “I agree that digitization has not been sufficiently adopted in the sector and neither is it available, but it’s also up to the sector itself to take the initiative. There are good initiatives in other cargo segments which can serve as inspiration for the breakbulk sector to come up with applications developed by the sector itself.”


Dennis Devlin: “There are plenty of technology and sector-specific digitalization tools available. The key question is whether and to what extent project owners and EPCs want to use the available technology and/or develop new tools. The appetite seems weak. For example, even when project materials package and item-level bar coding or RFID tags are used at origin, as has been done for many years, seldom are such systems (or the wealth of associated data) used for job-site (or off job-site) materials management, warehousing and storage. And in some cases, different IT tools are used. EPCs all support digitalization tools in theory, and many are members of the Construction Industry Institute, where such matters are discussed in detail in an open format. But in practice most don’t even use the available IT tools fully, much less spend time and effort to reduce their internal costs (and those the EPCs pass on to project owners) by properly implementing these tools.”

Grant Wattman: “While I believe we require more robust tools, I do believe there are tools. We cannot wait for ‘specific’ breakbulk or project cargo applications. We need to utilize the tools available in the breakbulk and project cargo business.”

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