The shipping industry has embraced innovation and change in the transition from sail to steam and with advances in technology like radio and radar. Ports are no exception, and now connected technologies are moving them into a digital age.
Ports are becoming “smart,” but what does that mean? In short, a smart port is one that takes full advantage of space, generates greater profits, saves natural resources, and takes advantage of the technology available for the logistics community. Ports are no longer just about docking ships as the industry is working together in new, data-driven ways. The shipping industry is more complex than ever as stakeholders exchange information in real time, including cargo and logistics companies, storage providers, rail and barge operators, trucking companies and sensor providers for pipelines, cranes, berths, and roads. Connecting the entire supply chain with technological innovations will increase port efficiency while reducing pressures on the global shipping ecosystem. As a result, stakeholders are revamping the in-port experience by integrating technology and digital innovation in daily activities. Making processes faster and efficient is key to future operations and business. It is no longer the largest port that will survive, but the smartest.
We are already seeing examples of smart port initiatives. Last year, the Port of Rotterdam Authority and IBM announced their collaboration on a multi-year digitalization initiative to transform the port’s operational environment using Internet of Things (IoT) technologies in the cloud. This began with the development of a centralized dashboard application to collect real-time water, weather, sensor, and communications data all analyzed through the IBM IoT platform. The Port of Antwerp is becoming a smart port thanks to the use of IoT, seeking to improve infrastructures, logistics processing, and port traffic flows. In time, all elements of the port will be connected through a network for sharing of data and information. The Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are also making significant investments to completely automate operations. Germany’s Port of Hamburg extended technical assistance to other stakeholders by improving logistics, adding intelligent railway points through sensors, harnessing shore power from renewable energies and even providing an option to find free parking spaces. Many ports in Asia have taken similar smart port initiatives as well.
Although many ports today are coming to terms with the importance and need for digitalization and IoT, there is still a long road ahead. Ports face many issues in the pursuit of becoming a smart port, both technically and strategically. Introducing solutions focused on automation and information services undoubtedly provide added value, but determining which technologies, how to implement them and the way in which they can support a port’s overall digital strategy remains a challenge. Additionally, smart port, IoT, and other technologies must be adequately protected from unauthorized hacking or manipulation. We will explore some of these technologies in our next series of blog posts.
Smart ports are still taking shape as digital innovation continues to evolve, but what will they look like in say 20 years? Some are already making predictions with the release of “2038: A Smart Port Story.” A bit extreme, but we will see how smart ports transform in both the short- and long-term.