#SPSC18 Q&A: Gerald Hirt, HVCC


Gerald Hirt, Managing Director of Hamburg Vessel Coordination Center (HVCC), a speaker at Port Technology's Smart &Supply Chain Technologies Conference (#SPSC18), has spoken about HVCC's journey and what the future holds for supply chain logistics. 

Get more of a flavour for Hirt's expertise by reading his Port Technology technical paper: Hamburg Terminals: Partnership in Practice.


PTI: What key topic of conversation are you going to bring to the Smart Ports & Supply Chain Technologies Conference?

Hirt: HVCC is a key player in the digitization of port and terminal operations as well as collaboration with other stakeholders.

The starting point in 2004 was to combine the relevant operational planning data for feeder vessels of competing terminals in Hamburg on neutral ground (HVCC is a subsidiary of both HHLA and Eurogate Hamburg – a worldwide unique set-up) so that the efficiency of feeder and barge rotation within the Port of Hamburg was enhanced.

Today, HVCC's roles are also to coordinate centrally the planning of mega-vessels (not only container vessels), a role which HVCC performs in close collaboration with the port authorities.

All processes were initially done without the backing of software/technology. It became clear very quickly, that building a customized software to support HVCC operations would be the key to expand this unique operational idea further.

Today HVCC has not only a customized software to support the internal processes but started to build interfaces to other systems – going as far as sharing relevant data with a competing port, the Port of Rotterdam.

This makes HVCC a best-practice example for ‘organic’ digitization and we strongly believe that investing in these technologies is the catalyst for collaboration and information networks along the supply chain, resulting in tremendous efficiency gains.



PTI: What are the key areas of collaboration supply chain executives need to be aware of to streamline trade flows?

Hirt: Historically, every player along a supply chain has its own view on what to optimize in trade flow: Carriers are interested in optimizing the roundtrip of an individual ship executed in a global network, served with several partners.

Shippers have a need for reliable departure and arrival information in order to connect information with their internal planning systems. Terminals want to optimize berth and resource planning.

Port authorities and port service providers again have their individual view.

The different views seem to compete with each other, but they do not necessarily have to.

The example of airport collaborative decision making (A-CDM) has shown, that sharing of data and information – even without a direct improvement of my individual operations in a given moment – can help all players.

The execution of the transport of an individual good is part of global supply chain, which relies on an efficient information collaboration network. Therefore, an openness to share information along the whole supply chain, with all parties involved, is the key aspect we all should work on.


Containership in the harbour Waltershof


PTI: How can technology increase collaboration?

Hirt: In an industry that operates globally 24/7 with so many players involved, data sharing and CDM-concepts absolutely rely on technology and IT-infrastructure: if data and information are the fuel – technology is the required engine for collaboration.

This means that standardized technology and interoperability of processes are key factors of success. A solution that only serves a very specific purpose but is not capable to expand to other use cases is not sufficient to foster collaboration in global trade.

The technical possibility of making information available in real-time at any time has led to new concepts of collaboration. The next step will be to establish industry standards and build systems that even smaller players can easily adopt.

This kind of collaboration will not only be limited to e.g. major carriers and ports, but every stakeholder, which again is beneficial to all players.



PTI: What do you predict for the supply chain in 10 years’ time?

Hirt: If we overcome the current obstacles of cyber-security, answer relevant questions of ownership of data as well as find agreement on standards on how to exchange information, I believe that we are heading towards a fully digitalized, transparent and therefore more efficient supply chain.

Discussions will focus more on how we collaborate and not whether we should do so.

Major players will be a catalyst in this way, but every party will have access to the required information and relevant planning of the other parties, and therefore will be able to optimize own process.


Containership Tabea leaving the port of Hamburg


PTI: What is the role of the human in the digital supply chain?

Hirt: In HVCC we believe that digitization is supporting the human in decision making and in executing value-creating processes.

Certainly, the availability of data through digital and interconnected processes is also a value in itself, however, the interpretation of these and continuous process optimization is the role of the human we must focus on.


PTI: How can the modern terminal/port maintain or achieve a competitive edge?

Hirt: By adding to the logical internal perspective (e.g. automation of terminal processes and efficient operation) a new role as part of a global supply chain. One key element is the ability and willingness to collaborate with partners and grant more transparency on planning processes.

We believe that the most common problem in our industry is not an incapability of digitizing processes but the fear of sharing ‘too much’ information and the lack of industry standards. Changing this mindset takes a lot of work.

Only those ports and terminals that manage to overcome this very quickly, can achieve a real competitive edge.

Therefore, HHLA and EUROGATE Container Terminal Hamburg invested considerably in HVCC in order be a pioneer on both collaboration concepts and the required supporting technology. This will be beneficial in the long run to our customers.


Gerald Hirt:

Gerald Hirt served two years in the Navy, then studied seaborne transport and port management at the University of Applied Sciences in Oldenburg, graduating with a degree in industrial engineering.

Following a period of training at the shipping company P&O Nedlloyd, he began his career with the HHLA Group at HPC Hamburg Port Consulting in 2003.

From 2005, Hirt worked in the Sales department at HHLA Container Terminals, during which time he also spent two years studying part-time for a degree in executive management at the Copenhagen Business School.

Hirt has been Operations Manager at HVCC since November 2012. In this role, he expanded the portfolio of services for the Feeder Logistics Center (FLC) and developed the Nautical Terminal Coordination (NTC).

In June 2017, he became Managing Director of HVCC. 


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