Port Cities: Connecting the World

Published by  22 May, 2018 3:10 pm Leave your thoughts

A text signed by Barbara FLUEGGE, Founder of Digitizing Ecosystems, Switzerland, and also speaker at the Quebec Conference from June 11th to 14th, 2018.

“Cruising into the city” – a marketing headline we recognize in the cruise business quite well. The routes we choose as passengers depend on a number of criteria. While cruising from one culture and geography into another, we seek excitement and the maximum user experience. Driven by our own preferences, our emotions too turn towards the destinations we are about to reach. Those are the ones that we know at Port Cities. What expects us there? What makes the Port Cities attractive to capture our, the consumers’, interest? And how to capture the interest of investors that help to make each of the Port Cities a unique experience? To explore the back office of a well-functioning port city, we do not ride on the “smart anything” wave. We take in the following a rather different route.

City perspectives

Port Cities as any other cities are growing if they are able to manage a higher density of people, goods and facilities and foster sustainable economic and social welfare. Megacities these days are the ones to look at. The top 120 cities for example generate more than a third of the world’s Gross Domestic Product. By which a significant growth area for goods supply, distribution and adjacent services resides in these cities’ operations. It can be expected even more to come from these cities in the future.

Taking a look into other liveable communities we look into those that grew overtime. Some of them face their very own challenges by geographical boundaries, de-centralization of goods supply and being not competitive enough anymore to cope with the business trends. Communities face the risk of diminished population by appearing and acting old fashioned towards their citizens. Communities that are too fashionable on the other hand will face the risk of neglecting those that ask for a comprehensive service offering including transportation, household related, remote and onsite health care and further services for elderly people that seek to live still independently. Where do Port Cities stand? Is a port city like Hamburg or Québec playing in the fashionable corner?

Understanding the past, present and future position of Port Cities

Port Cities have always been the places to be: their uniqueness is grounded in the triangulation of physical and virtual elements: trading goods, connecting people, and on-/off-boarding ideas. Already in the 15th century their geographical position ranked higher than their size. The term port city not only referred to ocean fronts, but also to riverside urbanizations. In any of these variants, the trade through Port Cities facilitated a country’s and region’s interconnectedness. It was up to the traders and shipping community to transform the local competitive advantage into a regional and nationwide one. Some succeeded countrywide, others turned into a trade and storage hub offering dispatching services for the next hub or withholding the goods before forwarded. The role of the connected hinterland evolved over time once the trade of goods and information turned into local trade and attracted sellers and customers in the wider spread areas. It is worthwhile to look into the distinct players and organizations. We know from our own research that multiple hundreds of organizations in the port area, the city nearby and the hinterland participate, share and engage in a port city’s operations.

These days, Port Cities transfer port-sided land to turn it into highly priced residential and commercial real estate areas. If insufficient or purely developed by nature, constructional efforts help to regain land and consume space from commercial businesses. While us as ship lovers, cruise ship passengers or waterfront visitors all know about a port city’s attractiveness, Port Cities need to turn incoming trade and tourism into sustainable business onsite. By observing tourist groups that traverse a port city, hardly retail revenues go up. Port Cities need to look into the unique opportunity they have to capture the interest and the preferences of any individual passenger and employee as soon as possible – ideally right from the start before the ship left the previous harbor. Port Cities, too, have the unique opportunity to transform the local hub and its hinterland into a hub of interchanging products and services. New consumers arise: not only the constituents, visitors, local and far away businesses and other collaborating parties, deserve a focus, also a port city’s assets such as structural and natural resources.

These services target the port city’s unique identity: being it services for the cargo business, product and food processing, entertainment, scientific research for example. The position a portcity should consider is of strategic nature: as Port Cities evolved in the past from newly invented products that made their way from one side of the ocean to the other, Port Cities these days should turn into the hub of innovations that travel, too. Imagine which innovations would not enter a region or a country without counting on a well-functioning port city!

Transforming into the ecosystem of many kind

Take a look into the port city you are travelling to: as an employee, as a cruise operator or a visitor. Being allocated physically at a waterfront, nearby a region or an airport, successfully run Port Cities are able to tie in their citizens and business partners and stimulate safety growth wherever possible. Following the concept of ‘ecosystems thinking’, Port Cities are bounded through social, economic, and political interests. Successful Port Cities identify their unique position: being it to serve their constituents and visitors, to operate freight centers, construction and industrial zones, trade networks, to establish scientific transfer networks or to serve as entertainment processing hotspot. It take the agreement of the port city stakeholders: governmental and private, scientific and entrepreneurial, organizational and influencing. An ecosystem in which members intend to improve the current position will win against competitive hubs and be able to enlarge their local footprint. Positively speaking, a hub steered by members with one voice has the chance to empower others and drive innovation. With the legacy of the past and the outlook to a prosperous future, Port Cities have a realistic chance to sustain and ultimately grow in the market. It is crucial to get to know your counterparts and the strength of your network. Any of the members look into their contributions, skills and competences and they align, compete and grow jointly. By nature, ecosystems have the ultimate wish to facilitate the collaboration through economic, legal, technical and political frameworks. The underlying aim of an ecosystem could vary from surviving from economic pressure, sustaining the current position to growing and transforming into a new identity. What is the identity of your port city nearby?

Servitization fuelling the portcity’s growth

It is the goal of each port city to increase the throughput and foster business and societal opportunities. Market studies reveal a much greater interest in mobile-enabled services and their economic role for organizations and ecosystems than ever before. Sustainable Port Cities are those that offer services to any of their members: their constituents, their visitors, local and far away businesses and other collaborating parties, their assets, structural and natural resources. It is the projected economic outcome of service delivery compared to product sales. The expected ease of service delivery let the number of service offerings grow. How does it work while infrastructure, space and investment means are more and more limited? Many ecosystems get stuck due to heterogeneous, non-ICT related, manual services processed among business partners, governmental institutions and customers.

With the convergence of “digital” and “mobile”, service orientation allows stakeholders to step back from unnecessary activities and simplify structural and asset intense processes. A digital service is able to reach out to the others out there – commencing their journey thousands of miles far away or commuting right across the state border via the train station. Once successfully deployed, visitors as well as employees experience a new way of cruising the port city.


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