Not even rising water levels in the Kleine Grasbrook that threaten to submerge the area in seconds can unnerve Dr. Sebastian Saxe, CDO of the Hamburg Port Authority (HPA). Experience and his “excellent team” bolster the head of the disaster task force with responsibility for security in the port. We meet Dr. Saxe for the interview in his office on Brooktorkai near the showrooms where staff luckily only have to “simulate” rising water levels in the port.
CDO – both visionary and pragmatist
Saxe’s team of nine including three employees with responsibility for digitalisation and awareness have all been handpicked and are reliable, he notes. Saxe has been working for HPA since 2008 and in recent years as Chief Information and Chief Digital Officer and exclusively as CDO since January 1, 2017 and for good reason.
“The CDO is a visionary who has understood digitalisation and understands mobility, big data, the Internet of Things and social networks and can ensure that the characteristics of digitalisation are reflected in the real business processes occurring in the company,” Saxe points out – as if he had helped shape this definition.
Digitalisation to permeate all life spheres
Saxe explained: “That means, for instance, the CDO identifies potential for more efficient procedures and turns that into a business model. He orchestrates new digital services. The term 'CDO’ indicates that digitalisation is no longer a fashion trend – here today and gone tomorrow. Digitalisation is taking centre stage and will permeate life spheres sustainably – both private and work spheres. More emphasis has to be placed on the issue than hitherto. For capacity reasons, separation makes sense.”
To give Hamburg News an idea of the many projects currently undertaken by HPA, Saxe chooses his longest, the most exciting and his favourite beacon project.
Port Traffic Center Project
If his dreams come true, the port could be managed per tablet computer by 2025 or 2030. The aim is to accelerate the flow of goods in the Port of Hamburg. “To do so, we wish to bundle four control stations in a single Port Traffic Centre. The traffic in the port could be managed from one point, traffic routes overviewed and synergies used. The format is, if you wish, transferrable to a tablet computer.” At present, the port has a nautical control centre for shipping, a train managing centre, the port road management centre and a control station for bridges. HPA is working closely with the University of Hamburg on projects focusing in particular on customer-driven innovations i.e. commissioned research.
Virtual reality in the port
“Our most exciting project at present focuses on how to include and use virtual and augmented reality in the processes at the port.” Virtual reality could be used for planning in the port. Saxe pointed out: “We could simulate, for instance, plans for a new Köhlbrand Bridge in the port or for a new cruise ship terminal and take participants and the public and the knowledge gained into consideration when implementing it. We are also co-operating with the university on this project.”
Saxe’s favourite project centres on storm surges. Work in the team and most procedures are still done on paper, but are gradually going digital as part of the PORTprotect project. Certain scenarios have recently been simulated using a multi-touch table. What happens, for instance, if the water level rises 80 centimetres in one hour? “PORTprotect is the digital gateway to disaster control,” enthused Saxe, adding, “That’s only the start and it’s my favourite project.” Drones may play an important role as well. They can be deployed to get an overview of a situation and to transmit pictures to the control centre for evaluation – just one example of many forward-looking projects. “
“People in Hamburg love their port”
As a mathematician, Saxe has learnt to draw abstract conclusions – an ability vital to his role as CDO and for various projects. Six years ago, he unveiled his vision for the Port Traffic Center at the IT Strategy Days in Hamburg. Vast progress has been made towards implementing his vision meanwhile. Saxe certainly counts among visionaries and digital leaders in Hamburg. Taking his staff on board and stirring up enthusiasm for his plans is one of his top priorities. But that comes easy to him albeit he sometimes feels like a preacher, he says.
Yet, if HPA actually can manage operations at the port successfully from a tablet computer in 2025 or 2030, and simulate and present virtual construction plans and developments, then the people of Hamburg will reap the benefits from all the changes, if Saxe has his way. “The people of Hamburg love their port. It is up to us to make this change and transformation palpable in the new world.”