It is well known that globalization and the rise in international trade have increased the importance of the port’s role in the logistics chain. In Spain, the ports support 60% of exports and 85% of imports, in addition channels 53% of our country’s foreign trade with the European Union (EU).
The majority of ports show inefficiencies. For this reason, there is a need for constant improvement in port operations, in order to make them more efficient based on technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (machine learning, artificial vision and deep learning), the Internet of Things (IoT) and sensor networks, Blockchain-type distributed registry systems, among others.
Port Innovation: A key player in the transformation of the sector
There is no doubt that digital transformation plays and will play a crucial role in the competitive improvement of port tasks. Some of them are transcendental, for example, coordination of ports with other maritime transport agents, the intelligent prediction of demand and associated traffic, or the planning and management of port terminal operations.
There are ports such as Barcelona that are already focusing their efforts towards models of an intelligent port or Smart Port, which is an evolution to a more efficient and sustainable port enclave. That is why we decided to consult an industry expert such as Carles Rúa, Innovation director at Port of Barcelona, so that he could explain to us first-hand what this transformation is like in a port.
Who are the key players in integrating innovation in ports?
As the innovation director of the Port of Barcelona commented in an interview for Pier Next:
“Infrastructure, more and more, is becoming a commodity, and to differentiate yourself you must create a layer of innovation and added value.”
Carles Rúa, Innovation Director at the Port of Barcelona.
Ports can no longer compete on infrastructure alone, as the margin for differentiation in this area is low.
Infrastructure is becoming a commodity. To be different and competitive it is necessary to build a layer of services, a layer of innovation and a layer of added value.
It is also influenced by the change in purchasing habits and industry behaviors, which require the integration of new technologies to adapt to the needs.
The challenge of implementing cutting-edge solutions in ports and terminals involves the joint work of various stakeholders. Carles Rúa explained that participation and communication between all port departments is essential to understand their day-to-day needs.
In the last two years, the Port of Barcelona has changed its internal management structure to emphasize the strategic and horizontal nature of innovation. It created the Innovation and Business Strategy Department, reporting to the President and Chief Executive Officer and to the Innovation Bureau.
Participatory structures have also been defined, both within the port authority itself and at the level of the entire community with the following tools:
- A Digital Committee
- An internal I+D+i technical committee.
- The Strategy and Innovation Working Group of the Port Community Governing Board at the external level.
However, there are two internal areas that are key to the development of innovative solutions.
It is in charge of developing technological solutions for other departments and, in addition, it is where pilots and ideas are born that will later be developed by external startups.
Land and Maritime Operations Department
From here they are in charge of transferring to the IT department and to the startups where the main problems are found for their subsequent solution with the appropriate technologies.
Likewise, there are external agents that collaborate with the integration of innovation, such as Barcelona Activa or Tech Barcelona, among many others, that offer ports the support they need to carry out their initiatives.
The Process. How do you incorporate innovation in Port Industry?
To implement innovation in the port, the innovation department plays an essential role. As Rúa told us, his division is in charge of connecting the operations department with the startups or technology partners, who are in charge of executing the solutions.
Rúa also explained that three elements are essential for a good working structure:
- Detect the problem: To define the problem, there must always be an internal department linked to the operational in order to communicate the problem. Since it will be the department in charge of providing the information to the IT sector to develop a solution.
- Search for the solution: To find and execute the solution there may be different options, from a large technology company to a startup, depending on which agent is more appropriate.
- Validating agent: Before launching any innovation project, it is necessary that there is a figure that validates which solution is the most suitable for the problem in question and, above all, that it is compatible with the port’s current application. It is usually the IT department that is in charge of validating these processes.
The innovation department is in charge of bringing together all those involved in each of the sectors to validate these three points and reach a consensus, ensuring that the solution is optimal for the problem and that it will not cause any inconvenience for the rest of its applications.
By the time the three key elements are validated and the project is referred to external companies for development, their work is finished.
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