Interview Aernoud Willeumier
Aernoud Willeumier is Manager Business Analysis & Intelligence within the Commercial Department of the Port of Rotterdam. Mr Willeumier has been a member of ESPO’s Economic Analysis and Statistics Committee since 2014 and he has been the chairman of that committee since 2016.
1. Considering the aim and scope of the PORTOPIA project, it seems self-evident that ESPO’s Economic Analysis and Statistics Committee has a big interest in this project. What has been the role of the committee during the last 3 or 4 years?
The Economic Analysis & Statistics Committee has been actively involved in the project whilst focussing primarily on the module which will replace the existing Rapid Exchange System (RES) concerning the quarterly throughput data of the various ports. But I believe that the Committee has also played an important – sometimes critical – role in pushing the various consortium partners during the course of the project towards a rational approach concerning the determination of which performance indicators would be really relevant and useful for which stakeholder. We also played a role in defining what is feasible in terms of availability of data concerned and in terms of willingness of the port authorities to provide these data.
2. What are the main achievements of the PORTOPIA project so far according to you?
In my view, the most important achievement of the project is the development of a new platform for statistical analyses on throughput data of the participating European ports. Recently, an external review of the platform by an independent expert has confirmed that the platform has been well developed in a modular set-up, using open-source software and allowing further expansion and enhancements of the system.
3. What are the main problems or the limits of setting up a digitalised port data platform based on common indicators?
I think that the main restriction in the set-up of such a platform lies in the limited availability of data for certain performance indicators. The registration of throughput data on high level is no problem for most ports, but when it comes to more specific subjects, such as throughput per (detailed) commodity, modal split of hinterland flows or less quantitative subjects such as port governance, many ports face difficulties in collecting the correct data. The value of the platform is much lower when it only contains a limited set of data which is insufficient to draw proper conclusions.
4. In which fields do you think that progress has been made?
The PORTOPIA project has been a complex project with many participants and diverse stakeholders, each having specific goals. The original programme was quite ambitious but the execution appeared to be difficult, despite all the efforts made by the project coordinator to have the various work packages properly executed. I think that the main progress has been achieved in developing the new working RES module in the PORTOPIA platform, next to two other modules on Port Governance and EcoPorts (environmental issues).
Even if the scope of the platform only relates to three areas at the moment, I believe that the platform forms a good starting point for the further development of a more comprehensive and useful benchmark tool on relevant port performance indicators, which is an important achievement of the project!
5. Have you seen an evolution in the way ports are approaching data on port performance?
I have the feeling that in general, ports (authorities or associations) appear to be more open for data sharing on specific port performance issues. However, their main concerns are the (in)ability to actually collect and provide the requested data (in many cases they are simply not available), but also the perceived (commercial) sensitivity of certain data. The biggest concern is probably the uncertainty about who is going to use the port performance data and for which purpose. I think this is a very legitimate concern, which can only be taken away by creating clarity on this matter and hence creating trust among the ports that the sharing of data will not create any harm to them. I believe that this project has contributed to building this trust.
6. For years, European ports have been exchanging throughput data through the Rapid Exchange System (RES). What is the added value of the RES+, the new RES system developed under the PORTOPIA project?
Although RES+ needs some further development and enhancements, the biggest added value in comparison with the “traditional” way of exchanging data is the efficiency gain for both the ESPO secretariat and the individual ports (or associations) in terms of data processing. In addition, RES+ provides various analytical functions to compare data of different ports and trend lines over a number of years. These functions did not exist in the “old” RES. Probably, the larger port authorities have built their own analytics tools in which the RES data are downloaded, but with the new RES+ this functionality now becomes available to all participating ports.
7. ESPO has a long-standing tradition of collecting and assessing data on port governance and environmental management data. Why was it decided to incorporate this exercise in the PORTOPIA platform?
Both subjects of port governance and environmental management are very important for ESPO and its members. In recent years, ESPO has issued questionnaires to collect relevant data on these topics, partly driven by the increased attention of the European Commission or its DG’s for the performance of ports on both subjects. In an attempt to create a more standardised and repetitive approach to regularly collect data on these subjects and to improve efficiency in the whole process, it was a logic decision to develop the relevant modules in the PORTOPIA platform.
8. The PORTOPIA project will come to an end in November 2017. Is the work done? What should happen next?
No, the work is not finished yet and will it ever be finished? I expect that while gaining experience with the system by an ever-growing group of ports and associations, new ideas for further enhancements and expansions of the platform will definitely emerge. These ideas need to be evaluated and further developed and if possible implemented in the system.
At the moment, the next steps should be aimed at the transition of the platform from a “project” status towards an “operational” status. This includes the set-up of a pragmatic and workable governance structure for running the system on an economically viable basis, whereby the ownership of the platform becomes clear and manageable and the interests of ESPO (and its members) and the remaining consortium partners are properly secured. This requires the set-up of Service Level Agreements with the IT provider as well as the signing of a comprehensive Cooperation Agreement among all parties involved. This should also include agreements on confidentiality issues concerning the data and intellectual property of the platform. The main challenge will be the cost of maintaining and further developing the platform.
9. How can the project help Europe’s biggest port, your port, the Port of Rotterdam?
As you can imagine, at the Port of Rotterdam we have our own analytics and benchmarking tools in place. However, the data entry is still a highly manual process. With the development of the new PORTOPIA platform, I expect that data can eventually be downloaded automatically. This will result in substantial efficiency gains, which always remains an important goal for any port authority to achieve!
10. Which lessons can be taken from this project?
This is a difficult question! When looking back, I believe that the main lesson to be learned is that when starting such a complex project with many stakeholders involved, it is very important to have the scope well defined and substantiated before starting the project. I think that cooperation with a number of research institutes or universities in such a project is a good thing and can lead to various new ideas and approaches to the issues concerned, but having ten institutes and universities involved in the project is a huge challenge.