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Port professionals discuss digitalization, smart ports and future of the port industry in Riga

This week, representatives of the Baltic Sea ports have taken part in the conference “Ports 4.0”, held at the Freeport of Riga Authority, with the aim to discuss the digitization of ports, as well as challenges and opportunities, emerging from implementation of new technologies in ports’ daily operation. This has been the second technology conference organized by the Baltic Ports Organization, and this year it has been held in cooperation with the Freeport of Riga.

Opening the event, Ansis Zeltins, the Freeport of Riga CEO, highlighted a unique role of the region in new technologies’ development sphere: “The Baltic Sea is one of the busiest maritime places on our planet. There are more than 200 ports on its coasts, that serve every year ~ 300,000 vessels and handle 900 million tons of various cargo, while generating huge amounts of information and data. This makes the Baltic Sea region a unique testing ground for smart technology solutions in the ports and shipping industry.”

In the framework of the conference, there was much discussion about what a “smart port” really means and whether the implementation of digital technologies, process automation and 5G solutions are a clear boost to ports' competitiveness and a sustainable future. “Any port can become a smart port because data is everywhere and it is a key to immense opportunities. But the implementation of new technologies is not an end in itself. The path to a “smart port” is primarily linked with the necessity to understand when, how and where smart solutions are applicable,” said Matthew Wittmeier, moderator for the conference and Chief Marketing Officer for INFORM. Richard Morton, Secretary General of the International Port Community Systems Association (IPCSA), shares a similar view: “The key question the port community is facing today is as follows - for what purpose do we need new technologies and smart solutions in ports. The process should start with the business needs driving the technology, not the other way round”.

In the framework of the conference the challenges and problems the ports are facing on their path towards digitalization and automation were also discussed. One of the key challenges is the impact of new technologies on the industry workforce, demanding new skill sets, qualifications, and alteration of the existing yet decades-old work routines. Julius Küchle of the Fraunhofer Center for Maritime Logistics, emphasized: “Along with the implementation of new solutions, it is essential to provide for the industry workforce skills’ improvement and further training with the aim to maintain competitiveness in the labor market despite process automation.”

“The exchange of information and professional discussions in the framework of the BPO conference “Ports 4.0” provide excellent opportunities to develop and implement promising smart solutions across all the Baltic Sea region, thus enhancing the competitiveness and growth of each port and the whole region,” said A. Zeltins, commenting on the recent BPO event.