The world’s most innovative ports are using ‘smart’ solutions to improve revenue sustainability, explains CVA’s Wolfgang Lehmacher
Every professionally run company aspires for value creation through revenue increase, new growth engines, cost reduction, heightened efficiency and sustainability.
In the constant search to boost profits they continuously seek a competitive advantage through product and behaviour differentiation, an aim increasingly compatible with carbon footprint reduction and other green initiatives.
In terms of their general aims and ambitions ports are not at all different to any other business.
Managers seek to maximise strengths and minimise weaknesses. But the unique position of ports as facilitators of global and regional trade and often also as integral parts of cityscapes, makes the simultaneous improvement of efficiency, revenues and environmental performance even more desirable.
Meeting these varied goals, opening new markets and securing the long-term viability of ports and the employees, traders, cities and areas that rely on them in a rapidly evolving global economy can be driven via the application of smart thinking and processes. In this sense, smart stands for different and responsible behaviour enabled by new, at best holistic, concepts and modern technology.
Ports must be efficient enough to fit into the modern world, and into modern global and just-in-time supply chains. This can mean customers need multi-modal interconnectivity with a port’s hinterland, or with a certain geographic region or even an entire economy.
The smart concept can be rolled out so ports can become the pivotal point of a region. This can be as the core part of a bonded logistics park as we have seen in Yantian, China, for example.
More efficient container yards, better rail access and taking steps to ensure full integration with regional and national transportation plans are just some of the smart moves port businesses and local governments can examine to ensure they are offering the services and facilities their customers – businesses and people – need. And that they are offering them where they are needed.
Many port customers also have increasingly sophisticated niche requirements. A smart solution could mean the port supplying special temperature-controlled storage, handling and personnel for cold chain products such as pharmaceuticals and food stuffs. Or it could mean facilitating sea-air onward shipments options for cargoes that need to be shipped at least part of their journey as air freight, a solution that involves close cooperation by port managers with customs, quarantine, airports, forwarders and airlines.
Customer shareholders and the port’s own management – particularly for ports near cities – may need increasingly to prove show their sustainability, which can mean implementing green port solutions to meet stringent noise, water and air quality standards. Shippers and other port users and stakeholders need not only to be reassured, but need jointly to reassure civil society that adequate risk mitigation and security procedures are in place to ensure business continuity and safety for humans and the environment.
Indeed, there is no reason why ports cannot manage the total water cycle not only in relation to ships docked in port, but also in relation to the surrounding community through better ballast water treatment, desalination of sea water, water purification for potable water etc.
Ports could also act as facilitators of medical services. At present most commercial and passenger vessels have their own medical services, often entirely disconnected from global medical ecosystems. If someone gets sick or ill on board, instantaneous connection with medical doctors located off-site via a ‘virtual clinic or hospital’ could speed diagnosis and better enable preparation of the correct medical treatment before the vessel arrives at port and the patient is whisked to a local hospital.
For a port manager, all of these customer and stakeholder demands can easily be viewed as a regulatory burden, or an unnecessary drain on finite resources. Smart managers should instead view them as opportunities, opportunities that can sustain a port business over the long-term. Professional port managers should determine the smartest ways of meeting these changing requirements to maximise returns within budget restrictions. The world’s leading port managers are already grasping this truth.
In the port of Sydney in Australia, for example, various actions have been taken to illustrate just how important the port takes its green credentials. This has seen the installation of leakage proof technology, improved supervision of dangerous goods, waste reduction initiatives and a collection system for flushed water.
On the US West Coast, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have been leading the way in reducing emissions by both trucks and vessels, while in Germany the port of Hamburg has introduced railcars with noise-reducing ‘whispering brakes’. These efforts benefit both the local community and customers keen to demonstrate their embrace of carbon footprint reduction initiatives while also differentiating each port’s product.
The port of Antwerp has embraced many of these smart ambitions to establish its position as one of the world’s leading ports. Rail, waterway, pipeline and road connections guarantee hinterland transport options, while the port’s future-oriented energy policy includes a biomass power station and wind turbine.
In Sweden, the city port of Stockholm has taken the green and sustainable end goal a step further and is differentiating itself in a highly competitive market by pledging to become fossil-fuel free by 2030. The Royal Seaport project will see systems installed that carefully manage and preserve energy across the port using an automated grid to improve asset utilisation and a cold ironing solution that will enable vessels to plug into the local grid while at dock.
As well as appealing to port users, city planners and regulators, many of these measures can help grow revenues and reduce costs in the long-term by minimising at the same time the environmental burden, for example in the area of energy consumption and safety at work.
The lesson from the world’s leading ports is simple: Smart strategic actions can help port managers thrive in an ever changing world.
Wolfgang Lehmacher is partner and managing director (Greater China & India) at CVA, a global strategy business. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org