Digitalization, smart ports and future of the port industry in Riga

Mar 04 2020

Digitalization, smart ports and future of the port industry in Riga


The Ports 4.0 conference concluded in Riga, Latvia, gathering numerous top representatives of the port industry. Discussions included the impact and future of digitalization, as well as possible challenges the sector needs to overcome in order to remain competitive.

Talis Linkaits, Latvias Minister of Transport, opened the conference, followed by the hosts of the event, Viesturs Zeps, Chairman of the Board and Ansis Zeltinš, CEO, of the Freeport of Riga. Bogdan Ołdakowski, Secretary General of the Baltic Ports Organization also took the stage, welcoming the guests and introducing the moderator, Matthew Wittemeier, INFORM’s Marketing Manager.

Ansis Zeltinš, CEO, Freeport of Riga, offered the following comment:
“The Baltic Sea is one of the busiest maritime places on our planet. There are more than 200 ports on its coasts, that each year serve approx. 300k vessels with 900mt of various cargo, providing a unique digital platform and a testing ground for smart technology solutions. Participation in the Baltic Ports Organization (BPO), information exchange, and professional discussions provide an excellent opportunity to develop and implement promising smart solutions across all the Baltic Sea Region in the future, thus enhancing the competitiveness and growth of each and every port as well as the whole region.”

The programme began with a presentation focused on the digital solutions implemented in the Freeport of Riga, held by Deniss Bickovs (Freeport of Riga). These included a broad variety of interesting initiatives, such as ‘dynamic slot booking in smart hubs’, a pilot project with Latvijas Mobilais Telefons (LMT) and T-Systems (Deutsche Telekom Group). Benefits include truck announcement and call-off via app or information display onboard the vehicle, IT-supported transmission of car park spaces and booking of monitoring for heavy load transports through mobile terminals.

The session also featured a glimpse into the future, as Neils Kalninš (5G Techritory), presented the audience a vision of a digital Baltic Sea, stressing the importance of 5G technology commercialization for the ongoing digitalization process of the region. Richard Morton (IPCSA) closed the first segment, analyzing the strategic drivers for the electronic exchange of information in ports, among them Port Community Systems (PCS) and single window solutions.

Hurdles to overcome

Julius Küchle (Fraunhofer Center for Maritime Logistics), raised a number of important points, while examining the barriers and challenges faced by the ports sector on its path towards digitalization. There is an opportunity for the ports to switch from being simply users of logistical innovations emerging from other sectors to port communities becoming an innovation ecosystem, driving progress. That said, there are still key hurdles that need to be overcome for this to become reality. For example, common digital platforms remain largely unattractive to port authorities and operators, while at the same time carrying lots of benefits for their clients. It will be vital for the industry to answer the question, whether fostering digitalization is a business goal it wants to pursue.

Stepping outside the Baltic Sea region, Lamiaa Bennis (World Bank) explained the difficulties arising from ports becoming digitalized at a different pace, based on examples from Southeast Asia. Implementing single window solutions alone, faces multiple challenges. These range from high variance in the quality and reliability of existing IT infrastructure in different ports, leading to possible issues related to cyber-security or diverging data standards among existing systems to development being slowed down by regulatory processes or insufficiently trained staff and concerns about job losses.

Workforce and automation

The latter point has been expanded upon by Przemek Myszka (Baltic Transport Journal), sharing his thoughts on the impact of technology on the transport and logistics industry’s future workforce. Innovations will certainly create demand for new skill sets and qualifications and alter existing work routines. With smart regulation, new technologies can become a tool for making this transition a positive one, without leaving the existing workforce behind.

Briefly switching from digitalization to automation, Markku Mylly (MyNavix) analyzed some of the benefits and difficulties surrounding the process. Costs are possibly the first and foremost hurdle, faced by many ports, as meeting the requirements for automation is often an extremely pricey endeavour. These are also linked to the need for additional training for the staff, as well as security requirements necessary to combat the increasingly real threat of cyber-attacks. Growing maintenance costs also need to be considered, before the decision to implement automated solutions can be made. That said, automation also carries its share of benefits, such as better control over port emissions, an especially interesting argument considering numerous environmental regulations. Automation is a long-term investment and needs to be weighed accordingly.

More than theory

The conference also featured a number of practical examples showcasing innovative technologies. Margus Vihman (Port of Tallinn) presented his company’s smart check-in system, while Dan Steinnes (Grieg Connect) explained the real value behind efficient data management. Marta Wenta (SeaData) showed the audience innovative ways for noise control and air pollution prevention, and Kåre Ingebrigtsen (Frequentis) rounded up the package with his company’s take on control centre technology and how they can contribute to smooth completion of safety tasks.

A series of discussion panels, featuring Ansis Zeltinš (Freeport of Riga), Jörgen Nilsson (Port of Trelleborg), Krzysztof Urbaś (Port of Szczecin-Świnoujście), Andrzej Zelek (Polski PCS) and Erik Aadland (Grieg Connect), underscored the presentations, analyzing the main drivers behind the digitalization of seaports and the steps necessary for the sector to remain competitive.