If you want to get the kind of deep access to information at huge scale using innovative tech, you’re going to need to integrate not just multiple data sources, but these days multiple clouds, too.
That’s the view, at least, of an IT leader who’s had to do just that - Rick van Sluijs, Head of IT at major Low Countries commercial facility North Sea Port - a port authority which emerged from the 2018 merger of Zeeland Seaports in the Netherlands and the Port of Ghent in Belgium.
Maybe that doesn’t sound that big a deal, until you realise that we’re talking about a 60-kilometre-long cross-border port area that stretches from Vlissingen on Holland’s North Sea coast in the Netherlands to some 32 kilometres inland into Belgium. Just to handle shipping, it has over 25 miles of quay walls, and in the first 9 months of 2019, North Sea Port companies recorded a volume of 54 million tonnes sea freight transhipment, almost 2% up over the same period in 2018 - and it may end the year with a new record high of 71 million tonnes.
North Sea Port is therefore very much a central European hub for trade. Van Sluijs and his team need to supply the technology infrastructure to underpin the effective, friction-free distribution of all the multiplicity of goods entering the port from all over the world then on via inland shipping, rail, pipelines and motorways - with one direct rail connection running all the way to China.
But to remain among the top 10 European ports, there’s a need to integrate an immense amount of data and applications, according to van Sluijs:
Though we are one of the biggest ports of Europe, we also want to be a smart one, and we have a very clear ambition to build innovative business together with our customers, our stakeholders and partners. And when you think about any logistic chain, every sub-process within has need of data - but if the amount of throughput in logistic chains continues to rise and the amount of logistical movements continues to increase, the need for data will also increase.
We think here at North Sea Port we can help facilitate these logistics processes by providing smart services with good data at the right time, with the right processes. But we are not the gatekeeper on top of all logistic/port data; what we need to really ensure is that all our stakeholders can get authorised, easy and transparent access to the correct data. We do not necessarily develop these services ourselves, but want to actively cooperate with smart partners.”
To build the kind of IT architecture necessary to do this, van Sluijs has turned to IPaaS (Integration-Platform-as-a-Service) specialist Boomi, part of Dell since 2010, to deliver application/data integration, API management, data quality governance, B2B integration and even low code app development.
In this particular case, it offers a way to integrate, at scale, the kind of Internet of Things (IoT) capability North Sea Port needs to capture the data it wants, says van Sluijs:
There were two issues we wanted to resolve with this project. One, we lose income as a result of no or an incorrect registrations of visits of inland ships. This missing information also makes a negative contribution to overall safety - for example, having the right number of people aboard a ship is useful information in case of an emergency. We have that now, as we have very clear sight of the visits of inland ships in our port, making invoicing a much more efficient process, and perhaps more importantly, there is a great view of which ships are moored with which potentially hazardous goods are at which quays.”
A key partner here is the Hague-based local integration specialists Nalta, which has been working with the Boomi platform to deliver an iPaaS-IoT solution. According to van Sluijs:
By using a standardized solution we are better capable of creating a secure, open and scalable IoT solution like the one for North Sea Port. Our partner’s input here was mainly in the field of technology and usability of the new service. This allows our team to focus on the business and its required new processes.
Van Suijis says North Sea Port has to have constant, secure access to data be able to make crucial decisions that determine the success of businesses. Shipping is never stationary, and so the flow of data that drives it needs to be not only secure by instantly accessible, and so cloud integration is highly useful as it allows data to be intrinsically linked and connected via a centralised hub.
What kind of data? A lot more than IoT, it turns out, although sensor data forms a crucial element of shipping. The iPaaS tech is being used to connect to everything from harbour management systems through to a very wide range of both current and legacy applications, brought together into one ‘plane of glass,’ says van Sluijs:
We started with an assumption that by using GPS data from vessels, we could build a solution that can optimise the whole process of shipping, and create a centralized way to control the flow and security of data so as to optimise our business in every conceivable way.
This is only the beginning, van Sluijs argues:
In our region, around the Scheldt River, there are several ongoing developments regarding the observation of voyages of inland vessels. This could be in the ports, rivers, canals or locks.
North Sea Port is the main partner when it comes to making registration of or insight in these journeys in a simple and transparent way - and the good news here is that the IoT service we’ve built here w can easily be implemented at other ports or waterway areas.
And as IoT solutions only really thrive in ecosystems, by leveraging the architecture of the platform using a cloud integration approach, North Sea Port will be far better able to drive value out of the system by connecting to partner systems.