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Free ports, data, and the evolving role of port authorities

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We spoke with Richard Ballantyne (Chief Executive at British Ports Association) at the event to find out more about the biggest factors in the evolving role of port authorities, data, and the transformational opportunity that Free ports represent to the UK.

In a recent interview with Mikael Lind, Associate Professor and Senior Strategic Research Advisor with Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE), he noted how shipping was “a very self-organised ecosystem… several different parties are involved.”

He went on to note say that, “What we need to realise is that maritime transport will always be part of a larger setting - the global transport and supply chains.

“All the actors need to come together, join forces and collaborate. Ships do not exist without ports, and ports don’t exist without ships. All parties will need to join forces for the benefit of the ecosystem.”

At the Smart Ports Summit in London, data sharing and sustainability had been key topics during the event. Ports were also flagged as the being a leading actor in conversations of connectivity moving forward. Allowing for the maritime industry to connect to the global transport and supply chains.

We spoke with Richard Ballantyne (Chief Executive at the British Ports Association) at the event to find out more about the biggest factors in the evolving role of port authorities, data, and the transformational opportunity that Free ports represent to the UK.

Richard Ballantyne joined the British Ports Association (BPA) in 2007 and became the Chief Executive in 2016. He represents the BPA to several industry bodies and is a member of a wide range of government stakeholder groups and European Committees.

Richard has in depth expertise in ports, transport and environment policy matters as well as a wide experience of the legislative process around the UK. He sits on the European Sea Ports Organisation’s Executive Committee, the Maritime UK Board and is also a Director of Port Skills and Safety.

Watch the video now or read the transcript below. 

Q: How important is data and standardisation for port-centric growth?

Richard Ballantyne: This (data and standards) will be essential as we move into the new age, the post-industrial age.

Innovation, data and technology are all the things that ports, and the maritime logistics operators, are going to have to focus on to better integrate themselves into supply chains, get information to share, to drive efficiencies, improve safety and to keep costs down.

Q: At the Smart Ports Summit we have talked about technology regulation and geo-political circumstances, but what does sustainability mean for a smart port?

RB: There are many drivers behind the need to innovate and to becomes digital smart ports, and sustainability is certainly one of these drivers.

Stakeholders, governments, and even customers of the ports are driving the pressures of ports to be more sustainable. This is about improving the environmental impact a port has, reducing congestion, and reducing pollution.

How ports respond to these pressures are going to be a real challenge for them. Innovation can help, they can monitor what they are doing, limit or drive efficiencies, so that congestion and other impacts are kept to a minimum.

Q: What are the biggest factors to achieving just in time shipping?

RB: There are several challenges for just in time logistics, and a lot of these challenges have to do with information, when this is received, how is it processed, and also to when supply chains need things.

In the UK we have situations with Brexit where there are potential disruptions to just in time logistics which are throwing up challenges for us. What the solutions look like will be driven by innovation and technology I believe.

Q: What do you believe will be the three most important factors in the evolving role of port authorities?

RB: Effectively, ports are mechanisms and ecosystems in their location. Firstly, they must respond to what their customers need. Secondly, they must look after stakeholders. Finally, ports need to look at their wider economic impact.

Balancing stakeholder interest, jobs, employment opportunities, environmental impacts, and how they fit into the local political systems is key, however ports authorities also need to be aware of how they fit in with wider regional and national strategies to drive the economy forward.

Q: How are free ports a transformational opportunity to UK ports?

RB: Free ports are a very traditional and historic concept which are finding a bit of a renaissance in the UK.

With the advent of the UK leaving the European Union and the focus on the ports sector, we’ve been able to encourage government to consider how it might stimulate more growth around more ports around the UK.

One mechanism is to create a free port, effectively zoning off what a port does. These could drive many efficiencies in customs areas, but also on the planning sector and the wider enterprise stimulus, setting up businesses, and giving priorities to educational training around ports.

Q: What have been your key takeaway from the Smart Ports Summit?

RB: So far, we haven’t really established how we are going to drive forward this standardisation that is needed for smart ports and innovation in this sector.

However, we are looking at who the players should be to initiate some of the discussions. Also, that age old question with regards to ports and ships - chicken? Or egg?

Who starts the dialogue? Who starts the discussions?

I think we are clear that the shipping industry should come on board, and we would be looking for further collaboration as we move forward.

Q: What makes events like this invaluable to the industry?

RB: The ports industry and the maritime sector are quite fragmented. At events like (the Smart Ports Summit) you have competing consultants you have different ports who wouldn’t necessarily have a need or opportunity to come together.

National and international events give us the chance to come together and collaborate. We talk about ideas, solutions, and despite the digital age, it’s still really useful to come together face-to-face every now and then.

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