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Port authorities and terminal operators - the evolution of the smart port

Ahead of Smart Ports Summit Barcelona got the opportunity to speak with Eduard De Visser, Director of Strategy & Innovation at Port of Amsterdam, about the elements key to the evolution of a smart port and Port of Amsterdam’s readiness no matter the timing or outcome of Brexit.

Smart (or 'smarter') ports are ultimately designed and built to streamline processes and space usage. By achieving these goals, the operations of a smart port reduce their impact on the environment.

Ahead of Smart Ports Summit Barcelona got the opportunity to speak with Eduard De Visser, Director of Strategy & Innovation at Port of Amsterdam, about this thoughts on the smart ports of the future, and their impact on the maritime supply chain.

We also discuss the elements which are key to evolution of a smart port and Port of Amsterdam’s readiness no matter the timing or outcome of Brexit.

Take a look at the Q&A below.

Iain Gomersall: How important are smart ports to the development of the maritime supply chain?

Eduard De Visser: Extremely important, especially since reliability and predictability in ports and the logistical supply chain will be key.

Increasingly, we rely on just-in-time shipping of our goods, not only to our homes but also as a component of our industrial processes. The ability of a port to support that demand for a reliable and predictable logistical supply chain will be extremely important.

I think that it is the main driver behind the demand for smart ports.

IG: Will the broader maritime sector have a say in how smart ports develop?

Eduard De Visser: Definitely. It’s an illusion to think that a port authority could create a smart port on their own. We must be working with our clients, from shippers to stevedores, and the industrial companies behind them.

You need data and cooperation of the entire supply chain to achieve that goal.

However, as a port authority, we have a very crucial role as we have a vested interest in all the different parties within a port. We must be neutral with regards to the playing field and each of the players. This allows us to be able to bring them together.

IG: Companies active in the ports industry are responsible for both physical goods and sensitive customer data. As ports continue their path to digitalisation, what can port authority ecosystems do to protect against cyber-attacks and digital threats?

Eduard De Visser: There tends to be a focus on day-to-day operations in the maritime sector, and cyber-security is not really top-of-mind.

The NotPetya cyber-attack in 2017 touched most of Europe, it touched most of the ports, and it was a major wake-up call for the entire sector. It was major event, and it was not targeted at Maersk. But one of the largest container companies in the world found themselves the unintended victim. The attack immediately made cyber-security the number one priority for a lot of organisations within our ports.

We believe that working together with other companies is very important to our current and future operations. At the Port of Amsterdam, we have been working with neighbouring ports and a variety of companies in the ports ecosystem. In fact, Amsterdam and Rotterdam ports have been working together since the turn of the century to digitise all our administrative processes in the port community system, Portbase - the Dutch port community platform.

IG: Cooperation and data sharing between ports could streamline processes and improve operations, but some port authorities can be protective over their own data. Do you agree that cooperation is important to the evolution/growth of the smart port? If so, how do we overcome this hurdle?

Eduard De Visser: The creation of the digital infrastructure needed to enable a smart port can be quite capital intensive due to the expertise required to develop the port community system.

For example, Portbase is an organisation which employs approximately 100 personnel, full time. For a smaller port, that is a large investment in human capital.

The ports of Amsterdam and Rotterdam have the advantage of being the number one and four ports in Europe. This definitely gives us leverage, and we have chosen to develop the port community platform out of our own strengths. Furthermore, we invited the smaller Dutch ports to join, offering the platform to them and thereby improving the effectiveness of the platform.

The added advantage to us, as the initiators, is that we grow the platform, and therefore grow the attractiveness of the platform to our customers. At the end of the day, reliability, predictability, and decreased administrative costs to our customers will be one of our competitive advantages and increase the attractiveness of doing business in Dutch ports.

Key to the evolution of a smart port will be understanding the uncertainty and availability of the information from the broader logistics chain – and there will be business opportunities for some.

There are parties who do have an interest in increasing transparency, reliability, and sharing of information, but we should also be aware of the existence of other parties that have a vested interest in not sharing that information as it is the basis of their business.

Increasingly, we are seeing the shippers or owners of the cargo as the main parties driving the need for further transparency. It is coming about slowly, but surely.

I do not believe in the concept of one single, mega-database where all the information is collected from relevant parties, where we can coordinate a better, more streamlined port society and shipping industry. What we are seeing happen is a variety of different platforms and entities, communicating with systems in other places.

So, we are starting to see a network of networks, instead of the previously mentioned drive to monopolize data.

IG: Port authorities and terminal operators – what complexities do their relationships with one another bring to the smart ports equation?

I think the main terminal operators are partners, port authorities are landlord and client. I think port authorities tend to look at the bigger picture within the ports domain, whereas customers tend to look at their individual interest in the international supply chain.

There is an overlap in interests, but not necessarily a 100% match. I think that what needs to happen, and what we try to do, is constantly stay in touch with each other. Ensuring we have a dialogue as to what the digital products and services they require in order to improve their business.

That’s what we are using their information that they provide for.

While our focus is very much driven by the demands of all our customers, if we see the majority of users requesting a particular product or feature, we will look at pushing it through for the community as a whole.

We can use our leverage as a port authority to make things happen once a majority of early movers are willing to do so. We won’t necessarily wait for everybody to adopt, but we also cannot allow ourselves to be taken hostage by the one or two companies that don’t want to move ahead.

We’ve incorporated a formal “Strategic Customer Council” within the Portbase organisation which advises us on a regular basis, letting us know the changing drivers within terminal operations, whether it’s a bulk operation or a container operation, sea bound or across inland shipping.

For example, there was demand for additional support with regards to the uncertainty of Brexit. In response, we developed the ability for a lot of our customers within the Dutch ports to be ready for the changes in administrative processes. Enabling them to make the shift at the turn of a switch, no matter the timing or outcome of Brexit. We are ready.


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