MSC Digital Talks Ep. 4:‘First Digitalise, Then Optimise’  


MSC Digital Talks Ep. 4:‘First Digitalise, Then Optimise’  


Where better to discuss shipping’s digital transformation than in Europe’s biggest and busiest port?  For episode 4 of #MSCDigitalTalks, André Simha meets Iwan van der Wolf, CEO of Portbase to talk about driving innovation through a “Start up - Build up - Scale up” step-by-step approach, involving port authorities and other container-shipping stakeholders. 

From starting up to scaling up

Headquartered in Rotterdam, Portbase is a neutral, non-profit organisation that manages the Port Community System (PCS), a digital port logistics platform for all Dutch ports.

By enabling companies and governments to seamlessly exchange data with each other in an efficient and secure manner, the company fosters collaboration and facilitate parties to extract more value from logistics data flows.

In the video, Iwan and André speak about the importance of building information-sharing communities and developing industry-wide standards. They also discuss the challenges of keeping pace with technological advances, and how a step-by-step approach or ‘incremental innovation’ can help keep everyone on board.

Watch the video

" At Portbase, we first looked at digitising existing processes before we start optimising everything... It’s an amazing journey we are on at the moment. "

Iwan van der Wolf

CEO of Portbase

About MSC Digital Talks

#MSCDigitalTalks is a video series featuring interviews with industry movers and shakers. In each episode, André speaks to a different leader or expert about the future of digitalisation, innovation and technology. The series is part of our efforts to highlight the benefits of digitalisation in container shipping and to promote collaboration and industry standards across the supply chain. 

Follow #MSCDigitalTalks on LinkedIn to watch the latest episodes and join the conversation.


Links to previous episodes

MSC Digital Talks Episode #1: Driving MSC's Digital Evolution in France and Beyond

MSC Digital Talks Episode #2: Global Trade, Shipping and the Evolution of Digitalisation

MSC Digital Talks Episode #3: Exploring New Frontiers in Shipping Innovation

Read Episode 4 Transcript


Andre Simha: Hi Ivan, wonderful to meet you here in Rotterdam, the home of Portbase. I wanted to meet you in person in this beautiful, historic building which dates back to 1665, if I'm not mistaken. And I think the discussions around the new and the old will, I hope, prove to be interesting. 

Iwan Van Der Wolf: Thank you for having me, it’s a very nice and indeed impressive building. This is a building dating from the time that Rotterdam was still small and now it's the largest port in Europe.  

Andre Simha: So, first a question around innovation, Ivan. What is innovation for you and how is Port base innovative? 

Iwan Van Der Wolf: I think there are different sorts of innovation and these days, I think the innovation that really disrupts the world is the sexiest. But as you know, in logistics and mainly also port logistics, scalability and adoption are key. That's why we at Port base started with incremental innovation. So, in the first years of our existence, together with the community, we looked at improving existing processes and digitizing these before we start optimizing everything. 

Andre Simha: Absolutely. And I think, as we've discussed many times, innovation doesn't happen overnight. And it doesn't need to be something completely new and never seen before. So, tell me more about Port base. 

Iwan Van Der Wolf: If you look at Port base, I think the company itself is quite innovative. Twenty years ago, we were set up as a neutral company, so not a part of the Port Authority. First, we defined the core processes of the port with the community. And together we said, ok, we're going to digitize these in this order. 

Andre Simha: So, in essence, what you're saying is first digitize and then optimize? And that's a key element. 

Iwan Van Der Wolf: And that's a key element. I mean, I think that's something that really drives innovation in port logistics and by doing so, also in the global supply chain. So I think it’s an amazing journey we are on at the moment. 


Andre Simha: Talking about building communities and bringing people together to share information, how have you managed to build that trust and relationship needed to pursue these initiatives? 

Iwan Van Der Wolf: I think that neutrality is of course one of the key elements in this. And by having a neutral position, trust is there, but trust is also created by doing things together and getting to know each other. So, if you look at the development of all the digitization of all the processes in the port, we really did it together with the people. But we follow a kind of hybrid model because next to these core processes, we also want to enable the ecosystem themselves to do more with data and create new products and do their own thing, in a way. 

Andre Simha: So, the integration of other sources of information or platform-to-platform exchanges is something that you believe in, I guess, which I think is definitely the way forward. 

Iwan Van Der Wolf: Yes, definitely. And I think from that perspective, from the cooperation between PCSs* and platforms, it's very interesting. How do you look at this André? How do you see it evolving in the coming years? 

Andre Simha: The future of platforms like TradeLens, GSBN* and others is to integrate data from different sources. And for that, as you said, we need standards. We don't want to do mappings and translations. And I think we really want to move away from keying in data three, four or five times because not only does it take time, but you also lose a lot of quality. And I think we're all in agreement that we need good data, not just data. 

Iwan Van Der Wolf: Sure. And especially standardized data, otherwise we are not really able to share easily. And from that perspective, as a port community system, we really embrace the arrival of the DCSA*, which is really together with us, defining new standards. So that's an interesting take. 


Andre Simha: Now let's talk a little bit about scalability again. With the amount of data that is being stored and shared, with all the new processes around digitizing or digitalizing documents, with the advent of IoT connected devices that can talk to each other: how do you see that influencing Portbase and your key stakeholders? 

Iwan Van Der Wolf: I think we should embrace all these developments, of course, as a community, in order to let them help us get more real-time data. So incorporation I think is the goal and maybe also connecting them with everything we already have to enforce both propositions. And one of the things we're looking at in Rotterdam is also how we can combine the IoT* platform of the port with the port community systems. Is there any value in that? But the main challenge I see, and I think that's also our stakeholders’ challenge, is how do we incorporate these new technologies – and all the data that's coming out of them – in the existing processes? Because everybody is really focused on operations and logistics. They're really focused on day-to-day business and getting things done. And if you look at the current situation, with all the disruptions in the chain as well, there's not so much time to really incorporate these innovations.  

Andre Simha: Absolutely. And I think convincing the communities that real-time data coming from connected objects, for example, can replace a lot of the data that we're putting in manually. But of course, there's the element of trust which we discussed before. And so that also requires a lot of “evangelizing”.  Ivan, it's been a really nice time with you today again and I really hope we'll have a chance to see each other again. Thank you so much for participating. 

Iwan Van Der Wolf: Same here. André. I liked it a lot. 

*PCSs: Port Community System
*GSBN: Global Shipping Business Network
*DCSA: Digital Container Shipping Association