Port of Rotterdam: opportunities through digitisation and energy transition

Companies situated in the Port of Rotterdam think that increasing digitisation, automation and the rise of sources of renewable energy will provide them with new opportunities. However, generally speaking, the degree of innovation is still relatively low. These are the main conclusions presented in the Port Innovation Barometer, a study carried out under the supervision of Professor Henk Volberda of Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM). The study results were presented on 6 April, at an event that was all about SmartPort ’s second anniversary.

The Port Innovation Barometer is a large-scale study of the degree to which Rotterdam’s port and industrial zone, including the port areas in Schiedam and Vlaardingen, is innovation-friendly and modernised. The study was carried out by Erasmus University Rotterdam as part of SmartPort, a knowledge-intensive partnership between Erasmus University, Delft University of Technology, the Port Authority, the Rotterdam municipal authorities and the Deltalinqs entrepreneurs’ association.

Port Innovation Barometer

As part of the study, the researchers sent a survey to managing directors and other senior managers of all companies situated in the port and industrial zone. Nearly one third of the managers addressed (32.4%) completed the survey. In order to determine how the port is performing in comparison with other areas, the study also included companies situated in the area around the Port of Rotterdam, Eindhoven and the rest of the country.

The main findings of the 2016 Port Innovation Barometer are as follows:

  1. The companies situated in the port think the digitisation of the economy (including the growth of the ‘Internet of Things’) will provide them with new opportunities. Furthermore, companies situated in the port expect these developments to become increasingly important to their strategic decision-making process. The same is true for the increasing degree of robotisation and automation of production processes and the development and use of renewable energy.
  2. Despite the impact of disruptive technologies with which companies situated in the port are faced, the port area is not yet an ‘innovation hotspot’. The area scored lower than companies in the surrounding area (Rijnmond, the Drecht cities and Moerdijk), Eindhoven and the rest of the Netherlands on several innovation indicators. The differences were most significant with regard to the degree to which radical innovations are applied. The port-based companies scored almost 8 per cent lower on this indicator than the Dutch average and over 15 per cent lower than innovation hotspot Eindhoven.
  3. The study shows that the non-technological aspect of innovation (i.e., new ways of working and new types of management, organisation and collaboration) is crucial to both the capacity for innovation and the company results of businesses located in the port. Innovation results (i.e., turnover and profit growth, profitability and growth of the company’s market share in the past three years) are 73 per cent determined by investments in social innovation, which also determine 88 per cent of the companies’ operating results. In other words, technological innovation plays a relatively small part in both of these cases.
  4. The most innovative companies situated in the port are geared towards entrepreneurship. Organisations that are largely geared towards entrepreneurship tend to be over 70 per cent more innovative than the companies situated in the port, which tend to be much less geared towards entrepreneurship. On average, such companies’ operating results are 65 per cent higher. The most innovative companies employ a more-than-average number of people who have a highly varied skill set. In addition, such companies believe in empowering their employees and tend to have decentralised management.
  5. In the port’s business community, intra- en interpersonal skills are increasingly deemed important for the ‘port employee of the near future’. Intrapersonal skills include the ability to work independently and manage oneself and to take responsibility for one’s own work. Interpersonal skills are social skills such as the ability to collaborate (both with one’s colleagues and with clients), convince others and negotiate.
  6. The companies surveyed indicated that they regard collaboration with suppliers and (most of all) clients crucial to innovation activities. Few companies would involve start-ups in such efforts. On average, knowledge institutions, trade associations, entrepreneurs’ associations and government agencies were also considered less crucial to innovation activities.
  7. The majority of respondents feel that the Port of Rotterdam Authority should play a more active part in the development and/or modernisation of the port’s digital infrastructure and shift towards renewable energy. They also indicated that the Port Authority, in addition to playing its traditional part of ‘landlord’ engaged in selling or leasing out pieces of land, managing shipping operations and port maintenance should be more active in other fields. For instance, most companies would like to see the Port Authority play a more significant part in attracting innovative companies and encouraging companies to share their expertise with others. In addition, the researchers found that the Port Authority could also focus on the development of a digital port infrastructure and the modernisation of the port’s energy infrastructure.

Accelerating the energy transition

RSM will host a two-day event in Rotterdam on 28 and 29 June for the energy industry’s foremost business leaders, policy-makers, international investors, regulators, innovators and academics. The Erasmus Energy Forum  presents constructive debates that will determine the future of the energy market. The theme of this year’s event is Accelerating the energy transition – paths to zero carbon energy. Early bird registrations have opened.

Photo (CC AT): Frans Berkelaar

More information

Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) is one of Europe’s top 10 business schools. RSM provides ground-breaking research and education furthering excellence in all aspects of management and is based in the international port city of Rotterdam – a vital nexus of business, logistics and trade. RSM’s primary focus is on developing business leaders with international careers who can become a force for positive change by carrying their innovative mindset into a sustainable future. Our first-class range of bachelor, master, MBA, PhD and executive programmes encourage them to become critical, creative, caring and collaborative thinkers and doers. Study information and activities for future students, executives and alumni are also organised from the RSM office in Chengdu, China.


For more information about RSM or this release, please contact Ramses Singeling, Media Officer for RSM, on +31 10 408 2028 or by email at

Alumni , Companies , Executive education , Faculty & Research , Homepage , Newsroom , Master , MBA , Strategic management and entrepreneurship , EC for Future Energy Business , China