5. Ports, the key players in synchromodality

The pandemic has confronted us very strongly with a new reality. It urged freight transport and logistics to innovate towards a cooperative, information sharing approach. Data availability and interoperability are essential to allow real time information to seamlessly flow between different platforms and systems. By moving along this path, data barriers throughout the logistics chains need to torn down, both in terms of inter-company exchanges and between companies and the various authorities. 

How to act on this new reality?

The first conclusion is that logistics and intermodal freight transport need to be intertwined, There is a very large area for improvement. Smooth multimodal transport interoperability is still a huge step to take. Actually, most solutions, services, processes, procedures and software platforms are uni-modal oriented. Hardly taking into consideration the need to interoperate with other systems and other modes of transport participating in the same supply chain or logistic operation.

For quite some years now, the European Commission has advocated change. The goal being to improve efficiency in European freight transport, reducing its impact on the environment, and promoting the development and use of digital solutions. An overarching framework to promote interoperability between systems and data is available (European Interoperability Framework) and can also substantially impact EU supply chain operations.


The second conslusion  is for EU ports to embrace the concept of synchromodality. European ports carry 90% of the volume of goods traded between the EU and third countries. Compared to intra EU trade, this 90% is reduced to 30% of total EU trade. In 2001, the European Parliament approved the inclusion of 300 ports and 35 inland ports in the Trans-European Network (TEN) open to commercial traffic. The European Union is thus encouraging a more balanced and rational use of the different modes of transport. 

With the advent of the Industry 4.0 concept, new management models emerged, such as real-time transport management. This model enables operators to choose the most advantageous transport alternative from several visible options, according to the prevailing contextual situation. The evolutionary stepping stones appear to be:  – unimodality – intermodality – multimodality and leading up towards synchromodality. Synchromodality is at the heart of the transformation derived from the Logistic 4.0 concept. 

The concept of synchromodality refers to new efficient models of transport management in near real-time. The basis being interconnectivity and interoperability, thereby allowing an intensive data sharing and traceability of freight along the supply chain. A holistic view of the value chain is needed, as well as transparent and comprehensive communication between the actors involved. 

It is important to emphasise that the concept of synchromodality refers to the networked management of the supply chain, and not necessarily to the modal choice for a particular logistics node. The most widespread definition of synchromodality corresponds to the optimal selection of the combination of transport modes in real time through agile, seamless, predictive, intelligent, and connected management of the supply chain. The effects relate to gains in congestion, availability, time, costs, and sustainability. Important to note, the core of  synchromodal transport is flexibility. Flexibility appear to be a simple word representing a very challenging attitude: it requires logistic chain operators to structurally analysing and using the optimal means of transport for each specific route, being able to change transport modes at any time necessary. 

Based on the above, several benefits of synchromodality can be highlighted: 

  • Reduce the overall cost and environmental footprint of logistics operations.
  • Increasing reliability and improving services for logistics end-users (service level).
  • To distribute the demand on transport infrastructures and services and thus avoid congestion of transport networks.
  • Reduce empty truck trips and unproductive repositioning movements within the transport networks.
  • Reduce the transit times of trucks, ships, railways and others through multimodal or intermodal logistics platforms.
  • Optimisation of the use of resources in logistics nodes such as ports or inland terminals, based on good coordination between the infrastructure manager and the user.

Coming back to the role ports have to play:

  1. On a global scale, the ports are key nodes in supply chain networks as they manage transhipments of goods. The forecast and predictions of the how the ports of the future will look like emphasis the need to establishing innovative capabilities and digitalization. This does not only involving sea going transports, but rather embracing the trend towards supply chain integration including the concept of environmental and sustainable approach towards synchro-modality operational requirements. In fact, knowing the status of operations in the hinterland is key to better organizing port operations.

  2. Digitalization efforts, the development of digital platforms as an evolution of Port Community Systems (PCS) and the previous experience in single windows development, constitute a basis for extending digitization from the ports onto other modes of transport.  Commercial ports are recommend to prepare to play on a key role as value drivers within the supply chain. Synchromodality, i.e. obtaining relevant information in real time, can optimise and streamline connections. However, for the synchromodality model to be efficient, it is necessary to ensure coordination and visibility of such data exchange between the different actors in the supply chain.

  3. Ports have to play an active role in the coordination of information. It can help them become enabling nodes in global supply chains and to reduce negative externalities. In turn, by collecting real-time data and providing visibility of information, the environmental footprint and container logistics security risk can be more easily quantified and thus effectively reduced.  In this way, it is possible to analyse which modality or combination of them allows for an optimal, efficient, and sustainable result, on a day-to-day or even half-day basis. 

The SIMPLE platform in Spain implements the concept of synchromodality. SIMPLE actively pursues digitalization, interoperability and data sharing among transport and logistic operators. This goes hand-in-hand with active involvement of public authorities. The preferred option is synchromodal orientation. Ports of the future cannot afford a solipsistic - unimodal only – approach.  Digitization leads the way

This article has been developed in cooperation with Puertos del Estado within the scope of the EU Digital Transport and Logistic Forum and the EU/CEF FEDeRATED Project.


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This project is co-funded by the European Commission Connecting Europe Facility (CEF)