Last November marked the 20th anniversary of the establishment of digital communications at the Ports of Rotterdam and Amsterdam now integrated into Portbase. This system digitized communications so that today, Portbase boasts “the largest connected community of companies and governments in Europe.”
A potential game changer could be Portbase’s experiment with transitioning from digital communications to next generation quantum computer communications.
Iwan der van Wolf, CEO of Portbase, points out: “To this day, Portbase ensures that all core processes in all Dutch ports are in order. The digitization of these core processes achieves almost 100 percent coverage and has an annual added value of over 400 million Euros. Through Portbase, more than 5,000 companies conduct paperless business in the logistics chain, through all Dutch ports.”
To learn more about Portbase, AJOT spoke to Dennis Dortland, Portbase’s Consultant Strategic Innovations, at the Port of Rotterdam offices on June 19th.
Dortland noted the importance of merging Rotterdam and Amsterdam digital operations to provide a unified digital data flow: “The port authorities are responsible for the safe passage of vessels moving towards the ports … you need to make a notification to the port authorities in order … to get that passage. So that messaging is handled through Portbase, no matter what port. There’re more ports than just Rotterdam and Amsterdam that are connected to our services. So, no matter which ports you enter, it's the same information package, the same procedures. The … two authorities were pivotal in the beginning because they also, … appointed Portbase as a single window, … for the Vessel Notification Services.”
An interesting development, Dortland says, is that Dutch Customs decided to connect to the Portbase digital network to better serve the Rotterdam and Amsterdam port communities: “The Customs said: ‘Hey, there are so many businesses doing business here. They appointed Portbase as a single window for all cargo information. And that was … a basis of the trust and the magnitude that we still have today… Certain goods like plants or veterinary also needs to be inspected … If you are an importer or a forwarder, you want to know what to expect. You want to know if your cargo is still being held by Customs or not. So, we've actually, based … our data, positioned together with the market … built a complete custom dashboard so that … for each of your cargoes, what the status is? Is it being inspected? And if so, when can you expect a release?... You can know when you can organize your pickup… It's really a collaboration between everyone…It's also the trust … and well, maybe even the vision, of the (Dutch) Customs to say: ‘We are going to work together with the businesses.’ It's really a public private cooperation … it's trust that we've established in the past 22 years.”
Dortland said that the Portbase system made it easier to clarify actual vessel arrivals and departures and avoid the confusion resulting from the vessel traffic jams during the COVID pandemic: “We did see that there was a lot of problems with containers stacking up because of delays in China … or in Asia in general. Also, because personnel were getting sick … We actually created a Corona [COVID] dashboard on the information that we had already to provide specific insight … So, with everything stacking up: ‘Where are my containers? and where do we need to focus my attention first?’ I think that was … a good thing based on the data position … we were able to provide specific insights that the market needed to get the containers flowing as good as possible.”
Portbase is now exploring quantum communications to provide better data security than is available from current digital communications. It is doing so in collaboration with Delft University: “… The quantum key distribution is a first step into a full quantum internet. I don't know if that's the consensus yet, but that's the way I like to see it … What we say with the quantum key distribution … is that if we can have an entangled communication channel between two points … we can, through the entangling state of qubits, … send the key, which is identical to both parties” [with the effect that the communication will be totally secure].
The work is still in the experimental stage but could lead to a game changing situation with quantum communications if successful: “So that's what we're doing now with the pilot saying, okay, we have 2, 3, 4, 5 nodes and one hub in the center, and we can still guarantee a secure entanglement between two locations, two nodes … The … condition in order to build a quantum network. And that's … the newness of this research. And that's unique [to] what's happening here in the South of Holland. And this is being tested …with Portbase as a participant. The Port of Rotterdam decided to invest in this technology to see this as a valid defense against possible quantum computing that could read digital communications … Who would have access to a quantum computer? Well, you could say drug criminals, but usually … the first quantum computer … would be owned by States, or States would have access to it ... We're talking about adoption in 10 years from now. It's not going to be short term. It's not going be immediate.”
Portbase has also featured responses from several Port stakeholders attesting to the Portbase impact on company operations at the Rotterdam and Amsterdam ports: Kees Groeneveld, CEO, Euro Nordic Logistics, a company that focuses on the logistics chain from warehousing to scheduled services and from agencies to chartering, said: “All data that enters the system benefits predictability…. Of course, we don't want to make competitors wiser than strictly necessary. Commercial information and personal data are therefore handled with extreme care within Portbase's digital infrastructure …. Cybersecurity is an important point for the future of port logistics. That means not only securing and shielding the data that parties enter to prevent information from ending up in the wrong hands, but also protecting the platform itself.” The increasing crime and the cyber problem are putting pressure on the position of the Dutch ports. Partly for this reason, Portbase has set up a program: 'Sharing Safe Data Together'.” The emphasis is on what Portbase calls a “chain-wide approach that focuses on three spearheads: secure identities, secure chains and a secure platform.”
Karlien Brolsma, former General Manager of CTVrede-Steinweg, Amsterdam added: “Portbase ensures that we can exchange data between port companies and shippers in a standardized way… CTVrede owns and operates container terminals and silos in the Port of Amsterdam. We also operate as Agent to our customers, offering transportation, depot, and supply chain solutions … We are on a mission to make the supply chain more sustainable, starting by sailing two electric barges in the Netherlands (Sendo Shipping) … By using the Port Community System, CTVrede Amsterdam can unburden the customer throughout the entire logistics process. Due to the digitized process, the chance of making mistakes is drastically reduced.” Broslma noted that the Hinterland Container Notification is the multimodal notification portal for pre-notifying visits and containers at sea terminals, inland terminals, and depots: “This applies to the hinterland modalities: barge, rail and truck. You have an overview of the status of visitors and containers at a glance, via a single entrance and a uniform working method that applies to all terminals and depots.”
Jeroen Zwijnenburg, Chief Commercial Officer, Rotterdam Short Sea Terminals (RST) explained that the advantage of contact with all carriers from one screen and noted that partly due to the location of RST within Rotterdam with access to rail, the Maas River, and the A15 Highway, … RST was able to grow into the largest Short Sea Terminal hub in Europe. He says that thanks to the trimodal terminal facility, barge, rail and truck come together at RST and thanks to the Hinterland Container Notification system, RST can take on the role of just-in-time hub and ensure a more efficient flow of goods in Europe: “Thanks to the central customer connection, we can get in touch with all carriers. Due to this huge standardization step, RST's services have become a lot faster.”
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