SmartPortsBCN: Pandemic pressures underline importance of port digitalisation and collaboration

The Port of Hamburg talks to PTI

The COVID-19 pandemic has underlined the importance of digitalisation for ports and emphasised the need for collaboration, according to the Hamburg Port Authority (HPA).

Speaking to Port Technology International (PTI) ahead of the Smart Piers of the Future event in Barcelona, the HPA said the pandemic and ensuing crisis shows that the industry’s biggest challenges can only be overcome by ports working together.

To this end, it has released a digital playbook titled ‘Leveraging Digital Solutions in Crisis Management’, the first such publication of the chainPort initiative, which also counts the ports of Los Angeles, Barcelona, Antwerp and Montreal among its members.

Speaking to Port Technology International, HPA’s CEO Jens Meier described the playbook as “an online and strategic guideline” for port authorities and operators” to create a digital roadmap, with an emphasis on practical solutions already in place at chainPORT members’ ports.

In addition to being a practical guide for the current crisis, the playbook and wider chainPORT initiative is also an example of how far the port industry has progressed in collaborating and sharing information.

“Years ago, no one would have said that the world’ s largest ports would be part of a network where transparency, trust, commitment and exchange of information would constantly take place in order to benefit each other,” Meier said.

“chainPORT aims to bring together port authorities, their partners and customers to share experiences and develop common strategies for dealing with future issues.”

Additionally, ports need to evaluate their position on the logistic chain, particularly when considering infrastructure costs and environmental imperatives.

Through the playbook and participation in chainPORT the HPA wants to encourage ports to rethink their business models and together come up with answers to the problems they all share.

A safer and sustainable era

In the long term this requires ports to “increasingly grow into hubs of physical and information flows between different stakeholders”. This in turn will make the supply chain more efficient and better coordinated.

To achieve that, efforts to share data between ports and across borders must be intensified.

“Data sharing will help to improve and accelerate the quality of services and processes across actors,” Meier said.

“A transparent exchange of data contributes for example, to a more accurate berthing and departure planning, which aids in greenhouse gas reduction and consequently in cost reduction.”

One of the lasting effects of the pandemic could be an accelerated push towards digitalisation and automation, and this could lead to more innovation and sustainability.

HPA said it could create a new era for the maritime industry in which “sustainability is achieved through innovation and new technologies” with data sharing being the biggest driver.

This will become even more important in the post-pandemic era as port and city authorities work closer together, with the specific aim of cutting congestion and emissions.

“That was one of the most important reasons for the initiation of our smartPORT projects,” Meier said.

“In summary, for most ports a smart ports in smart cities approach may be better than focusing on smart port operations in isolation. This requires much closer cooperation between ports and cities than is currently common practice.

 “Turning a port into a smart port, not only means digitally connecting everything inside the port, but also requires multi-level cooperation between government authorities, businesses, local communities and other relevant parties.

“This is especially the case for the Port of Hamburg, which is located in the city center and has to face more challenges to make the port accepted by all communities and to ensure that the proper functioning of the port is in line with the development of the city.”

Greater data sharing and digital collaboration will not only make ports more efficient, but it will have dramatic effects on the supply chain.

HPA said it believes that those who invest in digital manufacturing partnerships will make their supply chains “dramatically more agile, predictable, and resilient” and will gain a significant competitive advantage in their markets.

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