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Smart Digital Ports (#SDP) of the Future – Review and takeaway

Visitors walk in a hall of the SDP conference.

In Rotterdam 4th – 6th Nov 2019

Last week’s #SDP conference in Rotterdam has been packed with loads of content into two days with quite some takeaway for the more than 250 visitors. As a kick-off for the conference Port of Rotterdam presented their way forward and how they are one of the leading ports when it comes to digitization and smart port approaches.

So what are the learnings or is the takeaway from this conference?

1. The market around the ports and terminals is not waiting!

The global forwarders and customers of the shipping lines are not waiting until the port industry has made their way towards integrated, smart and data driven solutions. Things everybody is already used to in the day-to-day online shop, are expected to become normal in the logistics chain on a business level as well. So everybody ordering things on Amazon or other platforms expects to get the tracking ID immediately after ordering automatically. This is what is expected at the business level in the supply chain as well by the forwarders. Also the liners (and their vessels) as the main customers of ports are moving ahead. They start optimizing the routing using data analytics and connected data to minimize e.g. fuel consumption or waiting time (or both). This also requires more interactive and connected approach for ports towards the vessels. Connectivity and data exchange across the borders of the different parts of the supply chain are necessary.


2. A digital approach and smart port solutions is not a matter of size

The Port of Rotterdam has impressively shown how to be on of the leading drivers in digital movement. One could say, that is easy being a big seaport with a lot of resources. However, that is not entirely true as the size is also increasing the level of complexity in a system. In any case, if the seaports are moving forward aggressively, the hinterland will need to follow this strategy in order to offer their services to the seaports and connect. Beside the physical connection by rail, truck or barge the logical, data driven connection will become much more important for hinterland ports working together with the seaports in a logistics chain.

As one of the speakers (Lars Jensen) from SeaIntelligence mentioner: Moving goods and cargo might become a commodity. Distinguishing your services from others and connecting through the supply chain will become more important than just having a quay wall.

The small and big ports in the hinterland will also need modern systems and possibilities to connect.

3. The focus can be different

Starting and implementing a smart port strategy can be different and will be different from port to port. So there is no one-size-fits-all. But there is a common bottom line proposed by several speakers: Think big, act small. Not a surprise that being agile in the organisation and adopt the activities all the time is required. So inspect what you are doing and adopt what you are doing. This will be a guiding principle to implement your smart port strategy. Here it does not matter whether you first follow a data platform driven approach, want to become more “green” or be connected in a better way. Or guiding the traffic better and increase there by the port capacity like PMO did.

4. The three key elements that are proposed for a connected smart port of the future:

  • Transparency
  • Transparency
  • Transparency

Above I have already mentioned two of the pillars of Scrum being one of the leading agile methodologies. Now here is the third: TRANSPARENCY
In this case this is less part of a methodology, it needs to be your guiding principle in the way moving forward being a smart port. The future and being a smart port means transparency and sharing data. So the already old approach having a leading port data system like a port community system (PCS) will still – or more than ever – be inevitable for the future. But now it is about opening up this port system to the customers and the supply chain to connect and share. The ability and willingness to act transparent with your data will be a key element!

It doesn’t matter whether you are a small port or a remote port, the smart port area will get there – somewhen.

Thank you to PTI and the sponsors for the #SDP19 conference!

By Norbert Klettner, managing director akquinet port consulting


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