A digital journey

On trend: Multi-touch tables for navigation planning are just one output of HPA’s smartPORT programme
On trend: Multi-touch tables for navigation planning are just one output of HPA’s smartPORT programme
“Megatrends such as globalisation and digitisation bring a lot of chances and challenges to all actors in the supply chain,” Dr Sebastian Saxe, HPA
“Megatrends such as globalisation and digitisation bring a lot of chances and challenges to all actors in the supply chain,” Dr Sebastian Saxe, HPA

HPA is well along the path of digital optimisation, but it still has some surprises in store, finds Carly Fields

Those ports just starting out on the digital optimisation journey would do well to take a leaf out of Hamburg’s book. Hamburg Port Authority (HPA) initiated its own optimisation project in 2013 and since then has launched more than 30 projects under its smartPORT initiative through both energy and logistics channels.

And this is just the beginning: Hamburg Port Authority chief information officer Dr Sebastian Saxe tells Port Strategy that there are more ideas on the table for optimising processes through digital services within the HPA as well as for port stakeholders. Hamburg is also pushing ahead with plans to use smartPORT logistics to better manage rail freight and shipping traffic as well as trucks.

But it’s not been plain sailing. Dr Saxe talks of the “many challenges” on HPA’s journey to realise each and every smartPORT initiative. In practical terms, ideas must be developed, evaluated and then selected. For the selected ideas, financing must be found and a prototype must be built – and all of this in only a year.

“Traditionally, IT projects submit a business case before. But, within digitalisation projects, this happens after,” says Dr Saxe. “Therefore, the conceptualisation and project initiation is crucial as it is very difficult to quantify pilot projects and set-up business cases. This is especially true when it comes to new innovative technologies where we, as a port authority, are short on experience.”

And that’s just the starting point; after the initiation, there are stakeholder and change management challenges to overcome. “In the smartPORT context we have to manage these issues both internally and externally at the same time. smartPORT is not only about the technological vision but it covers the philosophy of digitalisation of the maritime transport and logistics chain. Therefore, the interdependencies between process, technology and people have to be considered and they have to be kept in balance.”

IT evolution

IT – and its relevance to ports – has changed dramatically since Dr Saxe took up his position at HPA in 2009. Between 2009 and 2013, Dr Saxe unified HPA’s four different networks on a modern IP-based fibre optic network, constructed an emergency data centre and virtualised software applications – all of which set the foundations for the smartPORT project.

“Since 2013 IT at HPA is bi-modal, i.e. it runs on two ways,” he says. “On the one hand, there are classic IT projects which typically have a business case description at the beginning and on the other hand, there are smartPORT projects which are started by an idea and end with a manageable and tangible prototype. For HPA, both streams are necessary but each develops with a different speed and acceptance, as well as pre-requisites. Bi-modality of IT is characteristic of the digitalisation megatrend, causing the transformation of HPA.”

Now that it is more settled in its optimisation position, HPA has taken on a leading role in the chainPORT initiative, creating a global, interconnected network of smart ports. Formally launched in April 2016, chainPORT aims to foster greater collaboration between ports. HPA found a kindred spirit in the Port of Los Angeles, giving the initial impetus for the partnership. They were swiftly joined by Busan, Antwerp, Shenzhen and Felixstowe at the first meeting and chainPORT now connects over 10 partners around the globe on topics including IT collaboration, data exchange, digital change in organisations, and policy and training related aspects.

“Megatrends such as globalisation and digitisation bring a lot of chances and challenges to all actors in the supply chain,” says Dr Saxe. “Facing them together with partners in a strong partnership will facilitate mastering challenges such as adaption to the digital change and accelerate the chances such as cost saving and increasing efficiency, but also an opportunity to develop new digital business models.

“The philosophy of chainPORT is about collaboration and an open discussion environment. We want to learn from each other and share our knowledge.”

Taking this collaborative philosophy one step further, HPA is co-operating with academia through a partnership with Hamburg-based Fraunhofer Center for Maritime Logistics and Services. This, hopes HPA, will give a “scientific perspective” on port-related topic and will lead to the publication of a book on transformation and ports of the future in the second quarter of this year.


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