ChainPORT, The SmartPORTS Alliance

ChainPORT is an international network of ports whose shared goal is to advocate for a smart, innovative and sustainable port model. It is an initiative that was created by the Hamburg Port Authority in 2015

Posted on 07.26.2018
ChainPORT, an initiative of the Port of Hamburg, unites several international ports that opt ​​for digitalization. [Image: Kevin Schmid]

The project is based on a clear idea: to create a space where ports can work together and share their most innovative experiences. “ChainPORT is an informal association of leading ports which are capable of exchanging and sharing knowledge, innovating, and promoting strategic issues”, says Dr Andreia Tolciu, director of the Business Strategy Department of the Hamburg Port Authority.

Quality, not quantity

At first, ChainPORT only had 5 members, but today it has 12. However, the ultimate goal of this association is not to grow or achieve large numbers. “We want to be small, exclusive and selective to ensure the fluidity of information and speed in the development of projects, something that it wholly in line with ports with a digital outlook”, says Dr Tolciu.Unlike other alliances, the size of the ports in ChainPORT doesn’t matter. There are very large members like Shanghai and Rotterdam, but also smaller ones like Barcelona and Montreal.So, what does a port need in order to meet the ChainPORT standards? “It has to be a SmartPORT, develop many digital solutions and be highly innovative”, says Andrea Tolciu.

Sharing knowledge

One of the most important features of the digital age is the ease with which knowledge can be shared. This is the cornerstone upon which ChainPORT is built: all of its members learn from each other by sharing their best practices and smart solutions. Given that ports are facing similar solutions, why not seek shared solutions instead of designing local solutions? This work dynamic, based on synergy and innovation, translates into a more efficient way of working. “This is where new management models, technology uses and innovation originate”, says Santiago García-Milá, Deputy Executive Director of Strategy and Trade at Port of Barcelona and president of the IAPH (International Association of Ports and Harbours).

Of all the strategic issues shared in this network, one of the most revolutionary ones is related to changing the narrative on the current role of Port Authorities in the maritime-port logistics chain.

The ports that are part of ChainPORT have a different size and scope, from large ones, such as Shanghai or Rotterdam, to smaller ones, such as Barcelona or Montreal.

The Academy

Working groups have been organised within ChainPORT which pool efforts to devise solutions to the major challenges facing ports. This includes everything from a group working on developing technology issues like blockchain and security to another which is working on more political issues like placing large-ship port management on the agenda of international organisations. There is also a group working on managing cruise ships in which the Port of Barcelona participates actively, since it is the “leading cruise ship port in Europe”, adds García-Milá.

One of the key groups in this initiative is the one that brings visibility to the port authorities’ adaptation to the digital change. This is a key issue that distinguishes a traditional port from a SmartPORT. “Until now we thought that our industry was untouchable because it has existed for hundreds of years. However, we are beginning to see new commercial models that are competing with ports’ traditional commercial models. For example, one year ago Amazon announced that it was intending to buy ships, Costco also wants to join the business, and so do Chinese investors like Alibabá. If we don’t think of new business models ourselves, perhaps in the future we’ll experience situations like hotels are with Airbnb and bookshops with Amazon”, states Dr Tolciu.

The most dynamic working group of all is unquestionably the ChainPORT Academy. This academy sprang from professionals need to become active agents in the process of shared development. In other words, instead of leaving all the responsibility for the exchange of information in the hands of directors and CIOs of the ports, a space has been created where professionals and technicians meet annually to learn new concepts and thus ensure horizontal, natural knowledge transfer. The first Academy was held in Hamburg and the second in Barcelona, and both were a resounding success. The 2018 Academy is being held in Montreal and will focus on new technologies, artificial intelligence (IoT) and process automation.