by Mikael Lind, Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE), Wolfgang Lehmacher, Anchor Group,
Ines Knäpper, Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation at World Economic Forum,
Margi van Gogh, World Economic Forum, Tarik Maaouni, National Port Agency,
Jalal Benhayoun, PortNet, Dimitri Ashikhmin, FWA,
Hakim Lahmar, Cadi Ayyad University, Matias Sigal, Eco Wave Power

A lot of voices are raised for the maritime sector’s need of accelerated innovation adopting a holistic approach to make the industry more efficient, predictable, sustainable, and resilient. This is a true effort that requires collaboration and a mindset that is challenging the existing legacy and silo-thinking that impedes incumbents to improve operational efficiency, design and implement new business models and develop solutions for the common good. To avoid paving the cow path, inviting the crowd in open innovation efforts has proven to bring inspiration and pathways for new ideas to emerge. Securing the license to operate and ensuring future competitiveness in post pandemic times will require a change of the capital creation recipe for involved actors. By taking a holistic approach, such as the one advocated for in maritime informatics, we can realize higher resource and energy efficiency, while creating additional value for each participating actor, and thereby improving the return of investment in our assets, while reducing costs and the constraints that business puts upon our planet. This however requires collaborative innovation which by its nature of boosting the input from the crowd may take different forms. In this article we direct specific attention towards maritime hackathons.

Introduction – developing innovation capabilities through a new form of collaboration

During recent years, there has been a lot of calls towards the need for engaging the crowd in truly innovating the maritime sector. Different phenomena, such as PortXL being the first port and maritime accelerator originating from Port of Rotterdam which also surfaced in the ports of Singapore and Antwerp. New data sharing platforms, such as Perseus by MarineFields or NxTPort and Port+ emerging from Port of Antwerp empowering third-party developers to build new applications associated to ports that glue local information sharing communities together with the needs for the holistic global chain have been introduced. Physical LivingLab environments, such as the one in the Port of Singapore, have been established allowing service providers to experiment and demonstrate solutions in authentic settings. Hamburger Hafen and Logistik AG (HHLA) has set up a joint venture with HyperloopTT, which is a “crowd-powered” company and innovator by design. The goal of this collaborative innovation is to move containers at the speed of sound through a vacuum tube, an enclosed highly reliable system, connecting ports with their hinterland in a new way, reducing time and carbon emissions. Also, in Sweden, there are initiatives such as I.Hamn, of which the ambition is to allow the 50 ++ ports of Sweden to join forces in supporting each other on their journey towards a more sustainable and resilient transport ecosystem. These initiatives, just as examples, are indicators that the maritime industry wants to change and particularly makes progress where there is enough courage to open up and network and bring in external parties or the crowd to support the innovation efforts.

Collaboration between incumbents and startups is on the rise and maritime testbeds and accelerators have emerged. In August 2019, Inmarsat, Cargotec, Shell, HHLA and Wärtsilä launched the second cycle of the Trade & Transport Impact Program in search for 10 mature startups. This innovation platform was set up to produce commercial partnerships between startups and top transport companies. Also, Singapore’s largest shipping company, Eastern Pacific Shipping (EPS), teamed up with investor and the accelerator Techstars to create a space where innovation is accelerated.

Hackathons are another path to collaborative innovation, offering a broader, more concentrated and probably more diverse participation in an innovation effort, focused on a number of specific use cases, often framed as challenges. Hackathons, in different setups, have also become more present within the maritime sector during the last five years, and just recently, another event was concluded for the ports of Morocco. In this article, we explore the role, setup, outcomes and success factors of maritime hackathons, taking as an example the event in Morocco, coined as the Smart Port Challenge 2020.

The Morocco Smart Port Challenge 2020

The three winning solutions from the Morocco Smart Port Challenge 2020 demonstrate the ability of teams to instantly adapt to a specific context. The hackathon pursued in Morocco, introduced innovative solutions capable of solving concrete local challenges, while opening up opportunities for new areas of activity in Morocco, such as:

  1. Fighting climate change requiring carbon-neutral energy production. Eco Wave Power is an onshore wave energy technology company that developed a patented, smart and cost-efficient technology for turning ocean and sea waves into clean electricity. Production of energy from waves represents an opportunity for Morocco, which has a coastline of more than 2900 km on the Atlantic exposed to a large swell with port sites that could accommodate these energy production facilities.
  2. Managing high volume flows of trucks at peak times leading to congestion, delays and increased carbon emissions. This is a big concern for the Moroccan port industry. The  DuckTheLine team proposed the virtual line app, which breaks the common logic of first-in-first-out (FIFO) treatment by striking with three levels of optimization: bookings for the next day, real time waiting line and resources adjustment via a mobile app, and finally SMS instructions for those who are not equipped with smartphones.
  3. The transition to electronic payments instead of physical payment (check, cash) by increased transparency, cutting through red tape and reduced fees. The Port Tech Payment team proposed to accelerate the adoption of electronic payment through a multi-factor analysis of user behavior and business needs, integrating innovative chat-bot based technology at a limited cost to guide the users to and through the electronic payment options.

Beyond the winners there were many other promising solutions to support ports and international trade that were presented at the event, including:

  1. LIATRUST, offering a solution for the mutual recognition of electronic certificates of origin by customs authorities through technologies, like cloud computing, cryptographic security, data distribution as well as technological exchange standards to network the authorities in charge of issuing certificates.
  2. AQUASAFE, helping to detect and monitor the propagation of oil slicks, to fight against accidental pollution, thanks to real time data from multiple sources and the use of an image analysis software based on artificial intelligence.
  3. HYDROMOD, optimizing dredging work by analyzing winds, swells and currents which cause sediment to move and modify the depths and conditions of access to ports.

The Moroccan port community have established collective trust via the PortNet platform which also provided the setting for the hackathon. An online HACKATHON, as the one conducted in association to the ports of Morocco, allowed participants from everywhere in the world to contribute without any constraints, and travel or logistics costs. More than 500 people of 30 nationalities from Africa, Asia, Europe and America participated in this open international competition. The digital event platform with its broad set of functionalities and good ergonomics helped the participants to effectively collaborate during a six-week period. The same platform also supported the participating teams to be connected with mentors and experts and the participating teams could consult the 25 recorded lectures at any time of their convenience. Simultaneous English/French translation was offered and helped the clarity and collaboration in diverse meetings. Moroccan professionals from different sectors, including maritime and ports, banking and finance, logistics and transport, energy and environment, and foreign trade brought in a broad range of perspectives to solve the challenges. Bringing Moroccan universities, startups, students, and researchers together with private sector companies established a base of cooperation in applied research that goes beyond the event. The support of the Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation helped to mobilize networks of expertise and start-ups from abroad, providing global insights and creating international recognition of the effort conducted on Moroccan grounds.

Closing – a call for collaborative innovation action

Innovation efforts are thus picking up in leading ports. This is also urgently needed, as the majority of the 4,900 ports in the world are not yet using digital technology for even the most basic processes; 80% of ports continue to rely on manual, legacy solutions such as whiteboards or spreadsheets to manage critical marine services such as towage, pilotage and berthing.

Ports and the shipping sector are also integral to ensuring protection of our ocean environment. In answer the World Economic Forum`s UpLink Innovation Challenge, an ocean-friendly model for shipping has been offered by Cubex Global, a digital marketplace selling unused space in shipping containers, delivering an ocean-friendly model for shipping through its digital solution. Every year, 100 million containers cross the ocean almost empty, producing 280 million tons of carbon emissions and costing $25 billion a year in lost revenue. Digitization that enables optimization accelerates our ability to meet critical sustainability and development goals, delivering environmental, societal, and economic benefit.

The ports of the world are key to enable supply chain resilience and green conversion of the global supply chain, a must in a pandemic time era and beyond. As the maritime sector, and also the transport system as such, is pursued in a self-organized ecosystem with many stakeholders there is a need to empower its performance by open innovation. Engaging the crowd in innovating such ecosystems is a key ingrediency in maritime informatics, a discourse that unites practitioners and researchers in their efforts of improving efficiency, resilience, and sustainability of shipping. Looking upon the outcomes of the Smart Port Challenge 2020 pursued in Morocco, many of the proposed solutions are empowering ports to become more efficient, sustainable and integrated in the global supply chain with multi-dimensional hub capabilities.

Importantly, however, is to ensure that the investments made by different contest participants pays off beyond the hackathon. A concept to empower the transport ecosystem through crowd-sourced and crowd-based solutions, includes networked accelerators to make it easy for other geographical settings in the world to adopt the most innovative solutions, providing business opportunities for the participants and winners in hackathons.

A hackathon is a popup space and model to effectively surface ideas for innovation. “The approach of the past within maritime was to develop new technology either internally (e.g. legacy software systems) or due to regulation changes (e.g. the double hull for tankers) and to fund these initiatives from investors within shipping. We found that an open innovation strategy whereby we invited both the venture capital and maritime communities to take part in our goal of driving the industry forward by collectively shaping ground-breaking technology was truly effective,” says Gil Ofer, Eastern Pacific Shipping’s (EPS’) head of open innovation. “The other thing that really pleased us was how deeply involved the broader maritime community became. Large swathes of the industry – shipping companies, cargo owners, port operators, classification societies – all came by to meet with the companies we had invested in. Contracts and deals naturally followed.” While hackathons yield great ideas, networked accelerators help to capitalize on the effort and facilitate longer-term collaboration to truly innovate and produce concrete results and returns for all contributors.

Covid-19 has accelerated the digitization of global supply chain networks. If ports end up being the weak link in the global logistics chain, they will open up risks of delays, unnecessary costs, late payments, increased fuel consumption and emissions, and even safety concerns stemming from a lack of traceability. The gap between those ports that digitize and those that don’t is rising. Ports can learn from the leaders and leverage open innovation to prepare for the future. The world of ports needs more hackathons, labs, testbeds, incubators and accelerators, and more collaboration that drives innovation amongst them and towards more digitized and sustainable maritime logistics networks. This is a call for collaborative innovation action!