Picture the scene.
It’s a few years from now, and your land port has integrated its data and intelligence on incoming shipments with its operational systems. The result? Each day, and even by the hour, your systems can automatically allocate the lanes at the border as incoming or outgoing, to reflect the anticipated volumes and types of traffic in each direction.
Sounds like science fiction? Far from it. The technologies needed to achieve all this are already available today and fully proven. In my view, the question isn’t whether land ports will get these sorts of capabilities – but when. It’s still some way off, but will ultimately happen.
The challenge with lanes
As land ports across the Middle East and beyond embark on the journey to that future, the reality is that optimising their management of lanes remains a challenge for many. This is especially the case when the border crossing is constrained for space, for example if it consists of infrastructure such as a bridge that cannot be easily expanded.
A further issue is that there are often patterns of behaviour that can have a dramatic impact on the flow of imports, exports and people in each direction, and put any static configuration of lanes under heavy strain. A good example of this is the annual Hajj in Saudi Arabia. Each year, the mass-movement of pilgrims can result initially in congestion on the inbound lanes of the country’s land borders, and then on the outbound lanes as people leave afterwards.
The way to address such issues is to implement a more dynamic way of managing lanes to allow a higher degree of elasticity. However, this may not be easy with the current booth infrastructure, with key elements such as window layouts, camera orientation and IoT sensors configured either for inbound or outbound traffic.
Direction-agnostic and scalable
What’s needed is a way of making lanes agonistic of the direction in which traffic is traveling. And there is technology available – termed “smart gates” – to enable this. Smart gates are being installed at more and more land ports across the region, bringing the ability to collect data and direct vehicles into the appropriate lane irrespective of which direction they’re travelling in. By doing this, they play a key role in regulating and smoothing flows at the border.
A further benefit of smart gates is that they can be controlled using the intelligence produced by the risk engine that I described in my previous blog. That means the gates can be configured to channel the goods into the appropriate lane depending on the depth of inspection that the risk engine’s machine learning decides is required.
These advanced capabilities – and the enhanced elasticity they provide at the border – come down to smart design of the infrastructure and technologies. Another key design principle that also adds to elasticity is to build in the scope for the infrastructure to scale up and expand as the volumes of trade crossing it continue to grow.
There’s a good analogy here with Ikea furniture stores. Go into any Ikea store anywhere in the world, and you immediately know where you are at any given time. Why? Because the company has designed its stores to look and feel the same in terms of layout whether they’re 1,000 square meters, or 300,000. As customer volumes expand, the store scales up to match.
So as well as being agnostic and elastic in terms of the direction of flows, border infrastructure should also be designed to be future-proof, through the ability to scale in line with demand while also providing the same consistent experience – both to users and employees. This means building the port with a focus not on meeting the country’s needs for the next ten years, but the next 60 or 70 – perhaps by leaving spare space that can be used for expansion as and when it’s needed.
Smart gateway to the future
The vision of the future I described at the start of this blog may still be some way away for land ports across the Middle East. But it’s taking shape today, through innovations such as the introduction of smart gates – which will be a key enabler and component for the region’s fully digitalised and largely automated land ports of the future.
In my next blog in the series, I’ll look at how to design “invisible” borders for a seamless user experience. Watch this space!
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