In November 2017, Erwin Verstraelen became Chief Digital and innovation officer of the Port of Antwerp, a new position in the executive committee. It was a clear indication of the strategic focus the port wants to give to digitalization. Based on previous roles in other companies, he has a strong background in strategic IT thinking and in depth transformation of an organization driven by Information technology. starting from a new business strategy with 5 objectives towards 2020, Erwin created a new IT department with several new competence centers such as ‘data and analytics’, ‘innovation enablement’ and ‘cyber resilience’. Our digital strategy starts from the four roles we fulfil as a port authority: land lord, operator, regulator and community builder.
For the latter role, we focus on enabling innovation for the ecosystem of about 1000 companies in the port. We’ve done so by three targeted initiatives: PortXL (www.portxl.org/be), an accelerator for start-ups focusing on the maritime world. We select and introduce them to the ecosystem. Nxtport (www.nxtport.eu), the data platform that enables the digitalization of the supply chain in an around the port. Finally, the port of Antwerp, the city of Antwerp, the university of Antwerp and IMEC created ‘The Beacon’ (www.thebeacon.eu) an accelerator for Internet of things applications. It brings together researchers, start-ups, scale-ups and established companies around IOT. In the meantime, the Beacon has been recognized by the federal government as also an innovation hub for AI.
Regarding the roles of land lord, operator and regulator, the goal of the digital strategy is to create a digital nervous system across the port. This is very relevant, given the fact that the port area is 120 square kilometers big, being six times the city of Antwerp. So, by leveraging all kinds of (digital) technologies we will be able to create this nervous system, allowing us to have continuous feedback on what is happening in the port. Besides leveraging sensors and the deployment of a LORA network, we are transforming our 500 cameras into smart camera’s, being able to extract data out of video feeds. Next, we see huge potential in deploying drones since they can provide us with a bird eyes view across the port, flying with random patterns several times a day across the port. Finally, Our network of iNoses, sensors that can detect volatile organic components, will give us an early warning of accidental degasification. All these datasets come together in a digital twin, a digital copy of the port providing us with all relevant data to act on an event, the moment it happens.
During the Supernova technology festival, we were able to show our vision of the Port of the future. What we are working on can be further discovered at https://www.portofantwerp.com/en/port-future
Furthermore, the port is becoming an innovation platform, providing place and support to test innovative technologies that can help us and the ecosystem of the port to be more secure, efficient and innovative. An example is our active support for autonomous shipping pilots in the port area.
What characterizes Erwin can be summarized by the following self-made quote: In life there are problems, challenges and opportunities. That’s actually three times the same thing, only the mindset is different.