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SIBCON 2022 Interview: Co-Convenors offer insights into Singapore’s upcoming Digital Bunker Document Standard

03 Oct 2022

The following interview with Dennis Ho and Tan Sian Lip, both Co-Convenors for the Working Group on Electronic Documentation for Bunkering, is part of coverage for the upcoming Singapore International Bunkering Conference and Exhibition (SIBCON) 2022, where Manifold Times is an official media partner. 

Mr Ho, the Managing Director of ElbOil Singapore, and Mr Tan, the Founder & CEO of Halialabs, provide the bunkering publication with an update on the development of Singapore’s Digital Bunkering Document Standard standardisation.

MT: What is the new Digital Bunker Document Standard effort and how is it different from previous attempts? What is the status of this work?

The Digital Bunkering Document Standard standardisation project, an effort which started in October 2021, is a pro-competition and market-friendly initiative that specifies the characteristics of digital documents to be exchanged by participants within the bunkering ecosystem.  

This initiative aims to achieve several key outcomes:

  • The first is that the bunkering community will be able to create digital plug & play documents, usable by any IT solution or platform across the ecosystem without intermediaries.
  • The second is that structured data should flow together with these documents.  
  • The third is for the bunkering community’s graceful evolution wherein early adopters are not held back by slower ones and the slower ones are not forced to move in lock-step with their faster counterparts.

It is important to note the standardisation does not involve specifying or building IT systems. Market participants will, however, be encouraged to do so on their own as they adopt this new standard.

The standard working group is currently in the stage of validating working drafts of specifications to assess their fit towards specific business needs within the bunkering ecosystem.  

MT: What benefits does electronic documentation offer for the local bunkering sector? 

The advent of computers and digital communications have resulted in time spent waiting for couriers disappearing into history. However, friction points between the internal e-documentation systems of different stakeholders still exist.

Standardised e-documents seek to eliminate delays and errors from manual data-entry and the time and expense of adjusting one’s IT systems to accommodate counterparties’ different data-definitions.

Unlike physical documents, e-documents are less vulnerable to tampering as anyone who receives a copy will be able to independently verify their integrity.  

E-documentation also offers flexibility in business process design as any copy stored anywhere will be as (verifiably) reliable as an original copy. Knowing whether a document back-up is dependable will, consequently, also become simpler as there is no need to depend on the security of a document’s chain-of-custody.

Businesses’ ability to change IT service providers and business partners will increase because standardised e-documents will allow businesses to process documents and data coming from any organisation and system.

MT: Who are the parties driving the development of the Digital Bunker Document Standard?

This initiative is a national standard development effort under the Singapore Standards Council. The Technical Committee for Bunkering (Liquid Ambient Fuels) undertook the task of coming up with a standard specification for digitalisation in the bunker industry in 2021 and a working group (WG) was subsequently set up in 2021 with individuals drawn the bunkering industry.

The WG includes players from the various sectors: Bunker Suppliers, Traders, Oil Terminals, Vessel Owners/Operators, Surveyors, Laboratories, Business Associations (SCIC, SSA), meter vendors, government bodies (MPA, NMC, , IMDA) and relevant standards partners (Singapore Standards Council and IT Standards Committee); other allied supply-chain partner-groups included in this effort are, IT vendors, banks, and legal firms.  

MPA is actively encouraging key members of Singapore’s maritime community, especially those that have participated in Smart Nation initiatives, to participate in the standards setting process. This paves the way for the eventual adoption of this standard and speeds up the achievement of interoperability among bunkering participants from both the public and private sectors. 

MT: Bunkering seems to have remained mired in paper; what are the digitalisation challenges for this sector?

Previous digitalisation attempts have focused on interposing shared IT platforms between transacting parties. These initiatives also try to set standards (implicitly) by creating shared IT platforms. (i.e. because users of these platforms have to comply with their data/document standards.)

However, these platforms typically require transacting (pairs of) parties to be committed on the same platform – a form of consensus that is difficult to achieve. 

This is because the bunkering and shipping sectors operate in a decentralised dynamic and decentralised market that crosses multiple established business-industrial sectors, each with their own business traditions and processes, types of IT systems, and regulations. 

Add on the fact that a lot of bunkering is being carried out successfully without digital documents; this makes the power of status quo very difficult to overcome. Just how much more business is there to be gained through further digitalisation? Efficiency and risk arguments, while valid, tend to be much less compelling to businesses than those for revenue enhancement.

MT: Which parties are able to access electronic documentation after a bunkering operation? How is access decided and what is the purpose of each party having access to the data?

IT platforms that store documents (even momentarily) on behalf of multiple parties must implement data-access policies to maintain business confidentiality.

This standard, however, being a document-specification effort, does not envision, nor does it require, shared storage.  As such the issue of data-access policies does not arise as documents can be sent directly between businesses using a platform or simpler methods, e.g. email or whatsapp, or API calls.

Members of the Digital Bunkering Document Standard standardisation project

Other interviews conducted by Manifold Times for coverage of SIBCON 2022 are as follows:

Related: SIBCON 2022 Interview: MFMs relevant for custody transfer of future liquid-based marine fuels, confirms Endress+Hauser
RelatedSIBCON 2022 Interview: Singapore Bunkering TC Chairman shares republic’s direction on future marine fuels
RelatedSIBCON 2022 Interview: Clyde & Co discusses handling of bunker fuel quality disputes, alt fuels contracts


Photo credit: Singapore Technical Committee for Bunkering
Published: 3 October, 2022

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