Digitalisation is rapidly transforming our society, and this change is also taking shape in the logistics landscape. As a “smart partner” in the logistics chain, the Port of Rotterdam Authority wants to work with its partners to accelerate Rotterdam’s development into a waste-free port.

The logistics sector has a lot to gain from further digitalisation. We can find various initiatives in the port of Rotterdam in which the Port Authority acts as a catalyst for this development. ‘We have clearly identified the added value of digitalisation for port operations – which is why we aim to be not only Europe’s largest port, but also its smartest port,’ says Claudia de Andrade-de Wit, the Port of Rotterdam Authority’s Director of Digital & IT.

Over the past few years, we’ve increasingly moved from our traditional role as port manager to that of an enterprising network organisation that focusses on strengthening the port ecosystem. Together with our community, we’re steadily building a waste-free port that takes optimal advantage of the available space, infrastructure and transport capacity.

Claudia de Andrade-de Wit

Wide range of advantages

Digitalisation can benefit every party involved – and not just in terms of efficiency. ‘When you reduce waiting times for seagoing vessels at the terminals, this yields substantial fuel savings and, as a result, lower emissions. And if we manage to introduce just-in-time solutions for the other modes of transport besides sea shipping, this will only enhance this positive effect. Sharing data via digital platforms helps us in this context. We can use Portbase, the Port Community System that we set up in partnership with the Port of Amsterdam, for the swift, efficient and cost-effective exchange of information between over 4,700 companies and between private parties and government authorities. This platform creates tremendous added value for its users. Portbase makes the Netherlands an interesting logistics “data hub” for major international players that want to do business in and via this country. That’s why we and the members of our community are currently working to identify other options to develop this “diamond in the rough”.’

Open and innovative

Digitalisation isn’t something you do on your own – particularly in a logistics chain. It isn’t a case of simply designing a blueprint and implementing it in phases. ‘Although we did think that initially! By now, we’ve become aware that digitalisation is achieved one step at a time, with the different parties working together towards closer integration. As a port, Rotterdam has always benefited from its deep waters. And naturally, this remains an important competitive advantage. In addition, we strive to foster an open climate in which we have increasingly close collaboration in the digital chain and exchange a growing volume of data. This leads to greater transparency, fewer emissions and helps strengthen our collective position. As partners and early adopters, we want to take new steps forward together.’


And this collaboration will attract other parties in turn. Initially within the port of Rotterdam itself, but also parties in its hinterland – and even other sea ports. ‘Seagoing vessels don’t just call at Rotterdam; their itineraries also include other ports like Antwerp, Amsterdam and Hamburg. By bundling our strengths in those areas where we aren’t in direct competition with each other, we can jointly strengthen freight flows between our ports. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could exchange data and schedules, creating the perfect conditions for just-in-time transport? And it would also be great if truck drivers were able to seamlessly move from sea port to sea port, because information has been automatically exchanged beforehand. The only way we can get this done is by standardising information. As the Port Authority, you shouldn’t be working to persuade every other sea port worldwide to adopt your specific information platform. No: the “way to go” is to make sure that our different systems can communicate with each other. Right now, we’re cautiously exploring what it takes to achieve that kind of interoperability.’

Digital replica

The port of Rotterdam is known for its cutting-edge terminals, where containers are handled and stored in a fully automated process. In addition, existing infrastructure in the port area is becoming increasingly smart thanks to intelligent sensor technology. Quay walls can provide status reports on their condition; waste containers can indicate when they need to be emptied. Behind the traditional scenery of ships, containers and gantry cranes, a new “digital replica” of the port is gradually taking shape as Rotterdam’s digital twin. De Andrade-de Wit: ‘This allows us to raise efficiency when it comes to the maintenance and servicing of all sorts of physical infrastructure. But the concrete added value extends far beyond that. In the near future, smart quays, bollards, cranes and other infrastructure will be able to communicate with each other. These new data flows will help us to improve the handling of ships and cargo even further in terms of speed, efficiency and safety. In other words, digitalisation will increasingly determine the success of the logistics chain. New trends like blockchain technology will play a guiding role, and are expected to open up all sorts of new possibilities. As a Port Authority, we aim to create the world’s smartest port in partnership with our clients and stakeholders. Exchanging and sharing data within the port community will play an increasingly crucial part in this process. And the Port of Rotterdam Authority is happy to encourage and facilitate this development.’


Another possible driver for the sector’s digital transformation could be cybersecurity concerns. The throughput of a single container in Rotterdam’s port area involves an average of 200 interactions and 28 parties. The current digital chain is not only marred by inefficiencies, but also contains various vulnerabilities. Four years ago, one of the container terminals in the port was temporarily crippled by a worldwide hack. ‘You can see a huge increase in digital hacks worldwide. This has made us all far more conscious of our vulnerability in this area, and of the need to work together to properly secure our data flows. A large-scale cyber-attack could throw the entire port out of whack. That would be bad news for everyone.’


Digitalisation is set to drastically transform every part of the logistics chain – there’s no doubt in Claudia de Andrade-de Wit’s mind about that. ‘We were given the opportunity to jointly develop smart integrated schedules for just-in-time, multimodal transport. This chain will be exceptionally transparent and efficient. And this will translate into both greater chain efficiency and environmental benefits. Right now, a lot of parties are still earning money from inefficiency and lack of transparency in the logistics chain. These companies will also be changing in response to this trend, and capitalising on their expertise in other ways.’ Should we see that as an invitation to pull up a chair? ‘Feel free to join in and give your view!’ says De Andrade-de Wit. She has been working at the interface of IT and business administration for thirty years now, and only rarely has she seen people made redundant by digitalisation and automation. ‘Digitalisation will create new employment opportunities and will change the job description of many existing positions. Raising efficiency creates new scope for smarter business practices, which is often a very satisfying experience.’


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