Smart ports with Big Data


Dutch ports are the backbone of the Dutch economy. To stay ahead of international competition, data traffic is playing an increasingly critical role. ‘Ports used to be all about goods, ships and cargo traffic, but now it is more and more about data management,’ states Marten van der Velde of Port Base, the company which coordinates and controls data traffic on behalf of the Dutch ports. ‘Only by sharing and exchanging all your data throughout the entire transport chain can you stay in the lead’. For several years, Statistics Netherlands has been working with Port Base and the ports of Rotterdam and Amsterdam in the project Zeehavenstatistiek (Seaport Statistics).
Van der Velde is Director of Strategy & Innovation at Port Base. From his desk in Pernis district, Rotterdam, he overlooks the city skyline, including the ubiquitous cranes in the harbour. He grew up with shipping (his father worked in inland shipping) and started out as an intern at the port. ‘Once you catch the port virus, you can’t be cured. It’s a very dynamic and international work environment with thousands of companies. Whether it’s inland shipping, inland shipping, cargo traffic or railway transport, it involves everything and everyone. That’s what makes it so exciting.’

Smart port

Van der Velde is just as excited about his business of organising the data traffic flows in Dutch ports. Commissioned by ports including but not limited to Rotterdam and Amsterdam, ‘Port Base manages the flows of data about everything and everybody doing anything at these ports, from transhipping bulk goods like grain to handling containers,’ he explains. Port Base manages data of shipping companies during goods clearance and knows where ships reporting to the Dutch port authorities are docked and unloaded, which containers are being inspected by customs, which cargo has been approved and which cleared. Port Base manages the information and document flows between shippers, authorities and forwarders.


Matching all these data makes it possible to coordinate the different processes around the ports better. This delivers a huge advantage in efficiency, according to Van der Velde:  ‘In the past, carriers,  owners and transporters did not have a clue what was going on at the port. They did not know where the cargo was, when it had arrived or would arrive and when it was ready for transportation. Someone could just show up in vain at the quayside, unaware that the shipment was still at sea. Now they will know when the shipment is ready and there is no need to use the already busy infrastructure for nothing. The less we burden that infrastructure, the better it will be for the port’s competitive position.’

Logistical weather map

Over the past few years, Port Base has mapped the logistical processes at the port and the planning of the goods flow into the hinterland. It wants to take things a step further now: ‘We are working towards a logistical weather map with cargo flows. We want transporters and owners of shipping cargo to see their goods spreading from the port through the infrastructure further inland, like clouds. Using real-time registration with smartphones, transponders and GPS trackers, we want to forecast the movements of goods across the harbour and across the country. This will bring enormous advantages. Goods flows will be even better coordinated. Transporters will be able to see how busy roads around the port will be the next day, then take an even better decision on the optimum mode of and best moment for the transport of their cargo.’

Seaport statistics

About five years ago, Port Base started up a joint data exchange project with the ports of Rotterdam and Amsterdam as well as Statistics Netherlands, resulting last year in the Seaport Statistics Agreement. The project also involves shipping brokers’ associations in Rotterdam and Amsterdam. For information on the distribution of goods across the hinterland, Statistics Netherlands was mainly using data provided by customs. Using relevant data of thousands of companies active in the ports, Statistics Netherlands will have a much larger amount of data available and be able to produce more detailed statistics more quickly: data on the number and type of containers at the ports, weight by type of goods, country of origin and country of destination. Much is to be gained on the outgoing side in particular: ‘We can supply these data,’ Van der Velde affirms. ‘Statistics Netherlands has the know-how and experience in setting up the data processes, in data mining, processing and analysing data in huge quantities. They can spot the gaps and flaws in the data. Together we can improve the quality of seaport statistics. ’