SDP 2021: A port’s best digital asset is its people

1:34am 8th April 2021

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It is fitting that in the final session of PTI’s Smart Digital Ports of the Future 2021 Conference, the discussion was not about smart digital ports themselves – but the people within them.

Whether that be collaborating in innovation hubs; leading to becoming economic orchestrators; or building and developing data-sharing relationships, technology initiatives in port communities should start and end with a people focus.

“The greatest asset we see is people,” said Rene Alvarenga, Senior Director of Product Management, Wabtec Corporation, in the New Business Models for Technology Projects in Ports & Terminals of the Future session of Day Four of the conference.

“The supply-chain industry is coming to the conclusion that moving cargo and containers is just not enough for ports anymore. Consumers and shippers expect better customer service. They want to know that the expected time of arrival of their containers, and that their cargo is going to be reliable.

“We need to better serve our customers, not just move their stuff around.”

For ports to better serve their customers, all speakers were fervent on the importance of the human element.

Investments in digitalized technologies like single window data systems or private 5G networks can only be truly successful if those investments are embedded in a cross-port strategy, said Dita Bruijin, Director of Operations at PortXchange.

“The human element is super important. The technology has to support the process. A platform is not worth anything if not embedded and utilized,” she said.

“Digitalisation is never a goal on its own. There must always be a vision in mind. Digitalization is a vessel to get there.”

Speakers argued that ports embarking on digital transformations need to consider the human element: can we train our workforce to utilize the new technology? Is there concern about job replacement? Does this investment fit our goals as a port?

Ports as collaboration drivers

Marie-Andree Blanchert, Assistant Director of Communications and Innovation at the Port of Quebec said human collaboration was a key driver in the Contrecoeur container terminal project. Blanchert told the audience that the new fully-automated terminal signifies the port as a driver for the economic region, creating an entirely new business model for Quebec.

“That was the spark from going from landlord to entrepreneur port,” Blanchert explained. “We believe the port is a driver for the economic region. Moving in sync with our communities is the future of the maritime industry if we want to stay ahead.”

Another port highlighting the importance of human collaboration is the Algeciras Port Authority.

Francisco de Los Santos, Chief Information and Innovation Officer, said the port authority opens up its digital and physical assets as a port living lab where start-ups and SMEs can co-create, test, and demonstrate innovative solutions to better the entire port community.

“Through this way, we receive a lot of fresh innovation in order to face challenges together facing the industry,” he said.

“Start-ups see a showroom to show what they are able to do. We have been working with start-ups in the last five years on an ad-hoc basis, but now we are systemizing the way we are working with them, to have a self-service approach in order to maximize the impact we are creating.”

And, if the events in the Suez Canal have been anything to go by, cross-sector human collaboration is essential to manage unexpected events impacting the entire supply chain in the future.

“Humans are the most important ingredient in this whole equation,” added Bob Dhaliwal, Secretary-Treasurer, ITF.

“Sometimes we over-rely on technology. Technology is fragile. We can see one ship can cause a big disruption in the supply chain. We need to rely on human beings to keep the supply chain resilient.”


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