smartPORT Hamburg: embracing port digitalisation

Digitalisation is one of the recent main factors driving the traditional port industry to fully reshape its business and make the industry more efficient and sustainable.

Hamburg is one of the biggest port cities in Europe; and is commonly known as the gateway to the world. Port and city are growing and evolving together according to emerging technological and societal trends. Megatrends like Internet of Things cybersecurity across the European energy sector(IoT), artificial intelligence, 3D printing, virtual and augmented reality, digital twins or blockchain open new opportunities for port operators as well as the stakeholders in the port economy.

We see potential to revolutionise processes by enhancing resource efficiency, supply chain visibility, seamless interface for intercompany transactions and more. Digitalisation is not only technically driven; it also redefines the mindset of organisations and the collaborative principles on which they rely; and among companies in the ecosystem by building up interdisciplinary teams. Therefore, both public and private sectors must mutually adapt their organisations to allow synchronisation between the parties in the economic and societal systems. Against this background the Hamburg Port Authority (HPA) began its digital transformational journey.

Digitalisation is a transformative process which has the potential to be disruptive or transitional, depending on the nature of the business models which could arise from adapting technologies in the sector. For the port industry, the HPA has identified three main challenges along this digital transformational journey.

Challenges for the HPA

The first challenge is to cope with the impact on business of the prevalence of megatrends and to set out strategies in a shorter life cycle. Technological radar becomes an important tool for quick assessment of these business impacts, providing a first evaluation of the usability of these technologies within business. The HPA assesses in both aspects whether these could be threats or opportunities, modelling direct and indirect impacts on the port business using both desk assessment and rapid prototyping.

As an infrastructure and traffic management company for port areas, the HPA applies new technologies to enhance capability at its core. At the same time, the HPA collaborates with organisations from other industries to explore opportunities to improve traditional business by building up partnerships in an open ecosystem. For example, the HPA is now exploring and piloting new applications in combining new technologies like Building Information Modelling (BIM). We seek to leverage business capability regarding lifecycle management of port and infrastructural assets in all phases – from project development, planning, building, operation and maintenance until the fading out of these objects. With the application of BIM, the HPA can allocate its resources more efficiently in the planning and building phases both on construction materials and personnel. BIM models help with project control, especially for cost and time dimension. This information can be visualised via the digital twin and/or by mean of immersive experience through virtual and augmented reality, in order to help in the communication process with stakeholders. Once the objects are finished and ready for operational phase, the sensors built into these infrastructures are connected as IoT applications with artificial intelligence resulting in capability on predictive maintenance for better cost-efficiency in operation of infrastructural assets. This scenario describes one of the HPS’s key strategic goals.

Furthermore, the Port of Hamburg is the first port in Europe with a testbed of business applications for the newest 5G mobile network. This technology will enable various possibilities to deploy new applications like real time data transmission in Internet of Things from maintenance ships within the port, live communication between construction sites and office via augmented reality or dynamic traffic light control.

smartPORT Hamburg sustainable ecosystems are key for digitalisation

Secondly, sustainable ecosystems are one of the key factors for digitalisation to succeed. The logistics industry is by nature complex and global. No company can really survive without collaboration with other organisations. The increasing requirements on the supply chain visibility by the end consumer in the business-to-consumer (B2C) segment and by business partners in the business-to-business (B2B) economic environment, forcing all parties in the redesign process to satisfy these needs. Each company has to concentrate on the core values and competences to secure the pole position or extend their business to increase diversity. It is very important that the partners in the ecosystems share some common goals. In the case of Hamburg, the HPA has coined the term smartPORT to describe the process of balancing economic efficiency and ecological sustainability in three main areas of infrastructure, cargo and traffic flow, and sustainable energy.

An example of the sustainable energy in the Port of Hamburg is how the HPA explores new technology for energy sources like LNG Bunkering or Cold Iron in order to reduce the emissions within the port area and to contribute to the better air quality of the city as a whole. Climate change is a key factor driving our strategic activities in the smartPORT Hamburg vision.

Organisational readiness is a challenge for transformation

Another key challenge is organisational readiness for digital transformation. Especially in an organisation with a long tradition behind it, like our port authorities, it is very important that employees within the organisation are ready to accept a new mindset. They must be willing to adopt and adapt to new technologies, leading to changes in processes and working environment. Changes in an organisational transformation cycle will become more frequent, more iterative and much faster in the future. Thus, organisational resilience is one of the promising competitive advantages in this global and fast-moving environment.

Strengthening the resilience of port organisations can be achieved via knowledge sharing as well as collaboration in the common challenges among Port Authority worldwide. That’s why the HPA has started the chainPORT initiative in partnership with ports like Los Angeles, Montreal, Rotterdam, Antwerp, Barcelona, Felixstowe, Singapore and Busan. In this network, the port authorities are exchanging expertise in digital solutions to address common challenges like supply chain visibility; and sharing experience in digital transformation or cybersecurity.

The digital transformation for port authorities is an ongoing and exciting journey. The HPA started its journey almost seven years ago to retain Hamburg’s position as sustainable and efficient gateway to the world.

Jens Meier, CEO

Dr. Phanthian Zuesongdham, Head of Digital and Business Transformation

Hamburg Port Authority AöR

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