The businesses in the Port of Rotterdam have managed to catch up with companies elsewhere in the Netherlands. This is one of the results of the new edition of the Port Innovation Barometer, a multiannual study regarding innovation and the innovation climate in the Rotterdam port region, which was performed on behalf of SmartPort and the Port of Rotterdam Authority by the Erasmus Centre for Business Innovation.
The same research also reveals that on average, the group of innovation pioneers performs better than non-innovative companies, that the customer plays a dominant role in the innovation ecosystem, and that a significant amount of companies prefers a more active role for the Port Authority in relation to digitisation, energy transition and the labour market in the port.
According to Elisabeth van Opstall (Managing Director of SmartPort) the research indicates that companies which respond innovatively to the changes that are coming their way are better equipped to serve their current and new customers.
Currently, SmartPort is cooperating with companies in the port to gain decision information based on scientific research. This involves the creation of knowledge about and the impact of long-term developments, like the energy transition, climate, digitisation and automation.
In the Port Innovation Barometer, the innovation pioneers highlight the added value of alliances such as SmartPort.
The main findings of the investigation are as follows:
1. Port businesses are catching up in innovation compared to the national average
A key barometer of innovation is the extent of incremental innovation and radical innovation. In both areas, port businesses score higher than in the ECBI baseline measurement of two years ago, while at national level the scores have reduced.
As a result, the previous gap between the scores for the Rotterdam port area and the scores for the whole country has closed. Although this still does not make the port an innovation hotspot, it shows a clear improvement.
2. Considerable strategic impact of digitisation, energy transition and autonomous/semi-autonomous transport anticipated
A substantial proportion of the port businesses expects that digitisation-related developments will affect business operations and strategy over the course of the next five years. This also applies to developments in autonomous and semi-autonomous transport and to the electrification of industrial processes, the use of bio-raw materials and, to a lesser extent, to 3D printing.
Most of companies noted that technological developments have made many new product ideas or new types of services possible in their market, or present great opportunities for their sector.
3. Innovation vanguard shows profit
In the survey, the business performance of the top 25% of innovative companies was compared with that of the bottom 25%. In order to determine innovation capacity, the study analyzed a wide variety of innovation indicators, such as the extent to which new products, services, operational processes and business concepts were introduced.
On average, the innovators score 29% higher in terms of attracting new customers and experience an average of 23% more market share growth. Regarding profitability, turnover and profit growth, the difference between the innovators and the laggards is over 10%.
4. Innovation capacity largely determined by non-technological factors
In comparison with the group of innovation laggards, the group of innovators spends on average significantly more on R&D and ICT/supporting ICT. Moreover, the innovative vanguard scores higher on average on various non-technological factors, including the level of entrepreneurial orientation, the introduction of new management practices and the extent to which the companies cooperate with external parties.
The research also shows that these and other non-technological factors contribute on average twice as much to the total innovation capacity of companies as investment in R&D and ICT. According to Henk Volberda, one of the researchers, this result underlines ‘the importance of the commitment to innovation in both the technological and the social and organisational domain.’
5. Customer determines innovation activities
The customer is crucial in the innovation ecosystem of companies; for almost 90% of the companies, it is true that customers are important to very important for their innovation activities. The top five main parties in the innovation ecosystem of port businesses also consists of suppliers, competing companies, complementary companies and the Port of Rotterdam Authority.
Knowledge institutions and platforms, industry associations, government agencies, etc, are considered to be less important. At the bottom are start-up hubs, business incubators and accelerators, commercial laboratories and external prototyping and testing facilities; less than 15% of the companies believe that these parties are important for their innovation activities. This amount is higher among innovation pioneers.
6. Maritime suppliers most innovative
The maritime and offshore manufacturing and wet hydraulic engineering industries are the most innovative cluster in the Rotterdam port region, and especially maritime suppliers. Other innovative sectors include non-maritime business, financial and IT services and third-party logistics services.
7. Narrow majority has intention to innovate laid down in their business strategy
The strategic agenda of around 55% of the companies states their intention to innovate. This percentage is about the same as 10 years ago, when the same question was put to the port businesses. One in three companies has an independent department or unit established for innovation purposes, and 45% have appointed one or more employees specifically to coordinate their innovation activities. The main innovation objective is to improve the quality of current products or services.
8. Majority of port businesses have difficulty attracting suitable personnel
About two-thirds of establishments in the Port of Rotterdam and the urban area surrounding the port experience difficulties in finding and attracting suitable employees on the labour market. According to Rick Hollen, who carried out the study together with Henk Volberda, this outcome reaffirms the image of a tightening labour market.
Another bottleneck lies in today’s legislation and regulations, which 35% of the companies consider as an obstacle to the development of new products or services. The latter is especially true for companies in the industry cluster (57%), the storage and transhipment sector (48%) and the transport and services for transport sector (44%).
9. Port businesses largely in favour of a more active role for Port Authority
Many companies in the port area believe that the Port of Rotterdam Authority should be more active in making the area more sustainable by encouraging and facilitating CO2 reductions (55% agree, 20% disagree, 25% neither agree nor disagree) and in digitising the area by enabling various data flows (53% agree, 23% disagree).
Moreover, a large number of companies want the Port Authority to be more active in coordinating advice or support regarding a future-proof labour market (57% agree, 17% disagree), promoting cooperative relations between companies (62% agree, 13% disagree) and enhancing the international competitiveness of the port area (75% agree, 8% disagree).
Over the past three years, a quarter of the average port company’s turnover has come from new products or services, almost 20% from substantially improved products or services, and the remainder (almost 60%) from unaltered or marginally modified products or services
The report concludes.
See more information in the PDF herebelow