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Port Sector: the Challenge of Technological Training

Although already in the midst of a technological development phase, the health crisis represented a boost for the digitization processes of port infrastructures, which after a massive effort by those in charge managed to maintain their activity despite the mobility and contact restrictions. But what kind of training is required in the transformation into a smart port?

As is happening in other areas of big industry, the maritime transportation sector and the intermodal function offered by ports is advancing by leaps and bounds, primarily in the application of disruptive technologies. As Chief of the Secretariat of the Inter-American Committee on Ports Jorge Durán said in a recent interview, the pandemic has accelerated the digitization processes, and ports—in the region and around the world—share a key challenge: technological training at the highest level. These infrastructures strive to become what is known as a PCS (Port Community System), a platform in which all those involved in port management are connected through Smart Ports, which incorporate technologies such as sensors, data analysis, process automation, and blockchain. Pedro García Gómez, Head of Business Development and Innovation for Portel Logistic Technologies, and Sandra Mena, Head of the company’s Sales Area, talk about the technical aspects involved in this development. According to recent data collected prior to the pandemic—which altered the reference and the reality—, over 80% of the world’s goods traveled by ship. As an essential pillar of international transportation, the maritime-port industry is clearly committed to technological advancement. “There are different initiatives in the sector that are striving for digitization, including at international entities such as the International Maritime Organization, the World Customs Organization and, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe,” say the representatives from Portel. The company says that the added value of the qualities of a smart port system impacts a variety of aspects:

  •  Sustainable growth of port capacity, providing technological solutions that improve infrastructure productivity, efficiency, and connectivity.
  • Improved efficiency in logistics, implementing collaborative models that optimize the management of information flows, both in planning and in operational monitoring and automation.
  • Ongoing innovation through the inclusion of the Innovative Community to leverage the latest technological advances.
  • Integration with cities favoring interconnection to facilitate a common relationship and joint action in shared areas (urban traffic, environmental performance, security and protection, etc.).
  • Improved service quality, measuring quality indicators in the provision of services and offering greater visibility of what is happening in port environments.
  • – Increased competitiveness of businesses and human personnel, enabling professionals to increase their knowledge and skills, driven by continuous innovation.

What can be done to promote digitization?

Digital transformation in the sector and the transition to a smart port model requires not only the use of specific technologies, but also an appropriate digital strategy and development of the skills of users and professionals. The Smart Port model refers not only to a particular entity (i.e., the terminal), rather it also includes all companies that operate at the port providing service to the logistics operators. That is why it is important to have a training, change management, and skills acquisition component to respond to all the associated challenges. “We defend the notion that all the world’s ports should advance in these Smart Ports models, even small and medium-sized enterprises, where collaborative digitization will enable them to be competitive based on their needs and the services they provide. These model changes have a positive impact on the companies operating there,” say the Portel representatives, stressing that this smart model “cannot be implemented successfully if decision makers do not consider collaborative aspects that enable them to better leverage the solutions they will be integrating.” This development is facing two challenges in achieving success:

  • A cultural change: key in both innovation and adapting to the changing circumstances of the sector. In the former case, the strategy must be oriented toward applied innovation; that is, what a certain technology or group of technologies can do to solve common problems, and not the other way around. Adaptation requires port communities to use more of a win2win approach to make the most collectively of this collaborative environment.
  • Investment: structural commitments are needed to make the digital transformation. In many cases, there are multi-million-dollar investments in physical infrastructures, but they do not take into account how they will be managed once installed, thus complicating medium- and long-term management of operational resources. This tends to occur in the design and construction of terminals, goods inspection infrastructure, navigation channels, access controls, etc. The data processed at those physical points provide a great deal of value as regards operational efficiency and visibility but take it away with the absence of systems capable of accessing or integrating that information from a common point of view.

Compared to traditional ports, smart ports represent significant benefits in terms of sustainability and efficiency, competitive value, cost savings, port coordination, and service.

New Risk Management

As also occurs in other technological areas, innovation grows in parallel to its vulnerabilities, so port authorities must establish guidelines for this development in accordance with proper risk management. “The vision of the managing entity of these ports must, as a neutral agent, establish mechanisms that make it possible to identify threats to reduce the risks and turn opportunities into guides for the development of programs and projects, taking into account the related entities to ensure the effectiveness of the transformation process,” the Portel sources assert. Digital development is also based on the working groups created with an innovative community to seek out solutions based on available or prototyped technologies that make it possible to move toward the future, taking into account that some traditional risks will be mitigated by it, but new vulnerabilities will arise with technologization. “The speed with which the digitization process is unfolding is tremendous, and it means running the risk of risk management becoming obsolete and out of step with the market,” they say. At this point, data processing in robotization and Artificial Intelligence tends to generate a certain amount of distrust. “There are risks related to cybersecurity that need to be taken into account, as weaknesses arise that can put digital assets and data at the ports at risk. The creation of standards and protective measures make it possible to reinforce trust,” they add. “Updating and complementing personnel training is a key factor in the success of the digital transformations, primarily to meet new requirements and skills such as advanced data analysis, predictive models, and the application of optimizations and automations. It is also necessary to take into account that there are new professionals who can add greater skill to the teams, and they need to be considered when undertaking those transformation projects,” they conclude. Article collaborators…

Sandra Mena, Head of Sales Area

Pedro García, Business Development and Innovation

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