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Passion, Preparation and Perseverance – the three magic traits of true innovators

How do you innovate in an industry which has been around for 5000 years and largely hasn’t changed? We took up the challenge back in 2012. 5 years later, the Port of Rotterdam proudly introduces Pronto; Port Call Optimisation. From now on, ships entering Rotterdam will do this more efficiently and with positive impact; increase usage, save money and reduce CO2. How did they do this? By taking their homework seriously.


Invited by our client KPN, we embarked on a series of B2B co-creation sessions. The question was: how can we create more value for our customers? The Port of Rotterdam – one of the world’s largest harbours – was one of the subjects. Together with a wide range of experts we co-created several fresh and forward-looking concepts for a strategic challenge around data and services. One of them became Pronto. It was built on the insight that a harbour in essence is a place where information is power and money, and transparency thus is not promoted. This however results in great inefficiencies and avoidable environmental damages. What if we could create a harbour where all would benefit from openness and data sharing? What if ships, terminals, ports and suppliers would co-operate fully?

Four steps to success

The Port of Rotterdam liked the concept from the start but realised its implications right away. It had been working already in this field, already had a vision, and knew its traps. It took 5 years and several steps to bring this one home. A truly global interoperable system had to be created from scratch:

1. Deep Dive

In a 5000-year old industry without formal global standards around the registry, a thorough analysis was needed. Business processes needed to be reviewed in order to find out a minimum level of data needed across the actors in the value chain.

2. Body Alignment

The International Hydrographic Organisation, based in the United Kingdom, and GS1 (global standards for business communication), based in Belgium, all had to come on board. In short: now new stuff should be created, existing standards should be used.

3. Coalition of Partners

To make Pronto a success, other major harbours and industry players had to become founding fathers as well. Cities like Houston, Singapore, Goteborg, Algeciras, Pusan, Ningbo (Shanghai) and companies like Maersk, Shell, CMA-CGM and MSC joined the taskforce. They represent a large part of bulk and container volume globally.

4. Minimum Viable Product

In 2017, a simple AIS based Ship tracker has been launched. To get things going. In the meantime, the Port of Rotterdam developed the real deal, the Pronto prototype, and it launched this year.

Three magic traits of true Innovators

What did all of this teach me? As a Fronteer strategist, I often come up with solutions to complex problems. The reality is that the majority of work (80-95%) takes place after this: big time execution. When I see my clients succeeding, here is what they have in common:


It starts with people. They take the lead. They want to do things differently. They are dreamers. They are change-makers.


Technology in itself is never the solution. Even worse is a disappointing product or service. Know in advance what you have to crack, and lay the groundwork first. Plan ahead.


The three stages in innovation are: it can’t be done, it’s not allowed, why did we not have this before? Accept resistance, stay positive and never stop exploring. The end is near.

It was a steep learning curve for the Port of Rotterdam. After all, what is 5 years compared to 5000? For me at least it showed me that once a vision is correct, and the concepting is rock-solid, chances are good it will hit the market one day. Sometimes, true innovations take time. Even in the fast-paced world we currently live in. Many thanks to Ben Scherpenzeel, Director Nautical Developments, Policy and Plans at Port of Rotterdam, Innovator, for being open about this project’s progress.


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