Port Strategy: Shaping the Future: Part 2

Press Review

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This article was published in the May issue of Port Strategy in 2020.


In the second part of the series, Matthew Wittemeier and Dr. Eva Savelsberg of INFORM GmbH outline strategic and emerging tech trends for 2020.

We pick up where we left off last month in this two-part series exploring emerging technologies that are starting to shape or have a high probability of shaping, the future of our industry. If you haven’t read Part 1 on the emerging technologies that are worth keeping your eyes on, it’s worth doubling back but this article can be read as a standalone.

Part 2 focuses in on the strategic trends that are also working to shape the conversation around technology in the maritime sector.


What we learned in 2019 was influenced by our work with 2038: A Smart Port Story. Throughout 2019, we brought out Parts 2 and 3 of 2038, and it is in these parts that we had the unique ability to move beyond just talking about technology to really explore its impact on humans, society, and the interaction between them. It was in these broader social and strategic trends that we also see a true ability for our industry to shape, and be shaped by, technology as possible solutions to challenges familiar and new.


There are three strategic technology trends that are worth retaining a focus on in 2020: ecosystems, data standards, and the rise of APIs. None of these items should come as a surprise, but they are all worth a quick recap, nonetheless.


If 2018 was the year of blockchain in the port industry, 2019 was most certainly the year of the Port Community System (PCS). As an example, PCSs are one example of two “ecosystem” trends that are worth pointing out, but first, let’s define “ecosystem.” The dictionary defines an ecosystem as a group of interconnected and interacting parts.

The first ecosystem trend to note is the rise of the interconnection of the physical port environments (i.e., if you physically work at a port, you connect your IT systems to the broader network). Many PCSs are leveraging the ecosystem approach to collect and share data leading to improved overall ecosystem efficiency. This, by all accounts, is a good outcome.

The second ecosystem trend that is propelling technology conversations forward are models emerging from some of the major technology providers that are painting a picture of a single-technology ecosystem. Again, in principle, this sounds like a great outcome. However, it’s worth taking a small, science detour.

Let’s start by noting that the definition of an ecosystem doesn’t indicate that an ecosystem is good or bad – just that it is. This should be our starting point in understanding the trend. Remember, our natural environment is an ecosystem, and it includes many things that are harmful like viruses and volcanos (we hope it is a coincidence that they both start with a “v”). Science tells us that an ecosystem that isn’t balanced that provides an overly favorable environment for any single part tends to lead to a bad outcome whereby that single part eventually disrupts the ecosystem in a negative way.

Science lesson finished, that brings us back to the proposed technology ecosystems. If they are a proprietary system that is designed to enable a single vendor greater influence, then we’d argue that these are, in fact, not a good thing. But, if designed well, where all parts, all vendors, terminal operators, ports, etc., have a shared input and can gain a comparable benefit, then these technology ecosystems could be the solution we so desperately need to address the dataexchange challenges facing our industry.

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