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To address the digital challenges of the maritime and logistics industry in Antwerp, the port-hackathon “Logistics of the Future” took place in December of 2016. During the event, more than 200 participants – twice the number of participants of the World Port Hackathon 2016 in Rotterdam – from Belgium, Singapore, Mexico, Russia and Israel worked non-stop to find solutions for the Port of Antwerp. The price: a 5000 euro prototyping budget.

This is part 1 of my post, addressing the opening night of the Hackathon event. The final outcome of my personal participation will be covered in part 2.

On a Friday evening, the hackathon begins with a pitching session by the teams that were formed in advance. People like myself – who were not teamed up yet – have a chance to present their ideas as well. As it turns out, I am one of the very few port employees who entered as a participant instead of as a coach. The rest of the contestants mainly consist of students, developers, entrepreneurs and, of course, hackers.

For this hackathon, my proposal is quite simple. A documentation agent works with paper Bills of Lading on a daily basis. Digitally processing this  B/L document has been researched from the 1980s onwards, yet its paper form has not completely disappeared. The idea that I am presenting is as follows: to create an application to scan this B/L and to represent it on a smartphone, which would also show the ETA of the cargo. ETA, app … ETAPP.

As soon as I step offstage, a group of eager developers runs over to me and we decide to join forces. We choose a table in the large event hall and we start to sketch and brainstorm. My task within our team is to explain the precise function of this crucial Bill of Lading. What concerns me most are problems in the processing and handling of this paper document.

Digitizing the B/L could speed up the release of goods in a lot of cases. But if my intention is only to translate the B/L information into an app, the rest of my team seems determined to take it a step further. They have come to this hackathon to reach for the sky. The entire transaction – where cargo is shipped by container to arrive at a certain destination – will need to be investigated. Accompanied by a couple of coaches, we enter into the night with more questions than answers.

(to be continued in part 2)

Sven Goyvaerts has been working as a documentation specialist for one of the largest container carriers.

He is the host of the ETAPP podcast, where industry professionals give insight in the digital transformation of the maritime and logistics sector.

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