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Rotterdam partners with IBM on digitisation initiative

The Port of Rotterdam has teamed with IBM Internet of Things to “digitise operations and build a connected, smart port of the future.”

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The move is a major step for the Port of Rotterdam as it moves ahead with its digital strategy. The collaboration with IBM is not just a pilot project, but a “multi-year digitization initiative to transform the port’s operational environment using Internet of Things (IoT) technologies in the cloud to benefit the port and those who use it”.

Rotterdam’s vision is to prepare its 42 kilometre site to host connected ships in the future. “It begins”, the port said “with the development of a centralized dashboard application that will collect and process real-time water (hydro), weather (meteo) sensor data and communications data, analyzed by IBM IoT technologies. This will enable a new wave of safer and more efficient traffic management at the port”. Cisco and Axians are also involved in the project.


"Here in Rotterdam, we are taking action to become the smartest port in the world," says Paul Smits, chief financial officer of the Port of Rotterdam Authority. "Speed and efficiency is essential to our business, and requires us to use all of the data available to us. Thanks to real-time information about infrastructure, water, air, etc., we can enormously improve the service we provide to everyone who uses the port, and prepare to embrace the connected, autonomous shipping of the future."

The idea is to use data to drive better decision making. “Previously the port relied on traditional radio and radar communication between captains, pilots, terminal operators, tugboats and more to make key decision on port operations. Now, as the Port of Rotterdam begins its digital transformation, sensors are being installed across 42-kilometers of land and sea - spanning from the City of Rotterdam into the North Sea - along the Port’s quay walls, mooring posts and roads. These sensors will gather multiple data streams including water (hydro) and weather (meteo) data about tides and currents, temperature, wind speed and direction, water levels, berth availability and visibility”.

The idea is to use data to drive better decision making. “Previously the port relied on traditional radio and radar communication between captains, pilots, terminal operators, tugboats and more to make key decision on port operations. Now, as the Port of Rotterdam begins its digital transformation, sensors are being installed across 42-kilometers of land and sea - spanning from the City of Rotterdam into the North Sea - along the Port’s quay walls, mooring posts and roads. These sensors will gather multiple data streams including water (hydro) and weather (meteo) data about tides and currents, temperature, wind speed and direction, water levels, berth availability and visibility”.

Speaking exclusively with WorldCargo News, Smits said Rotterdam has a long history in developing its own systems, including a Port Community System more than a decade ago, a geographical information system and other software for managing electron transactions, but this is a much bigger project. With the development of cloud computing, IoT, blockchain and other technologies there has been an “acceleration in digitisation” and developing a new platform that supports digitising the port “is not something we can do ourselves,” he noted.

Rotterdam’s initiative runs in parallel with moves by shipping lines and the port’s terminal operators to digitise supply chains and improve the movement of cargo through the port’s terminals. Better ways of sharing data are pivotal to achieving this; some carriers are working on blockchain, while the new automated terminals in Rotterdam in particular are working to integrate data from outside their own operations into their planning processes, in some cases exchanging planning data with customers for mutual benefit.

Smits said while there may be opportunities to exchange data between systems, the port authority is not looking extend into the role of supply chain planning. The focus of the IBM project is port infrastructure, the port will own data that is generated by its sensors measuring water depth, quay wall data etc, and may import data from other systems by agreement. He declined to comment on whether the data will generate any revenue, or whether there is any revenue sharing arrangement with IBM.

Also speaking with WorldCargo News, Bret Greenstein Vice President, Watson Internet of Things Platform, IBMI, described the project as “the ground work that needs to be done” to leverage data analytics and artificial intelligence to improve decision making. He noted that the cost of IoT sensors and connectivity has come down, and customers in retail, trucking and ports are now taking steps to implement data gathering technology.

“The pattern that is happening is the digitisation of all major touch points” as organisations look to transform the way they make decisions, said Greenstein. Looking at the shipping industry today, paper-based systems, EDI and “lookouts” in the form of alerts and notifications “are hardly the the basis today for transformation” he added.

This digital transformation has created a huge opportunity for IBM in the ports and shipping shipping industry. IBM does projects on a large scale, and for many years port IT budgets have been relatively small, and focused on one-off projects like port community systems and software integration, often with the aim of making processes “paperless”.

The IoT, data analytics and artificial intelligence are bringing much bigger goals, creating opportunities for companies like IBM and GE Transportation to get larger value contracts in the industry. Ports are certainly getting onboard - Smits said for Rotterdam today investing in digitisation is as important as traditional infrastructure like break waters and quay walls.

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