Erwin Verstraelen wins CIO of the Year thanks to passion for digital innovation

Friday 23 11 2018

ICT magazine Data News has named Erwin Verstraelen, Chief Digital, Information & Innovation Officer (CDIIO) of Antwerp Port Authority, as CIO of the year. He has won this award thanks to his clear strategic vision and ambition for digitising the port. "Port of Antwerp has set a new course, with digital transformation being an important part of it. Innovation and digitisation are levers for sustainably maintaining and further developing the competitiveness of our port in the long term," declared Erwin Verstraelen. "Port of Antwerp aims to help companies in the port embrace digital innovation."

Ambition, vision and collaboration, all in one

The jury, made up of Data New readers together with professionals including academics, former winners and leading IT experts considered that Erwin scored strongly on the criteria of vision, strategic insight, leadership and personality. The conclusive factor was his clear strategic vision for the Port of Antwerp's ambitious transformation project. This marked him out from the other two on the shortlist, namely Jocelyn Darbroudi (CIO DKV Belgium) and Günther Ghijsels (CIO & CDO Randstad Group Belgium). Erwin Verstraelen is the driving force behind everything involved with IT and digital innovation in the port.

"Here in the port of Antwerp I'm in my element, like a fish in the water. After all I come from a shipping family and grew up in Antwerp where I studied shipping transport economics. Not surprisingly I have a soft spot for the port and for innovation. For the past year I've been combining the role of CIO and CDO at Antwerp Port Authority, a role that I am passionate about."

Is the title of CIO of the Year justified recognition after just one year of CDIIO?

It certainly is. Our port has always been a hotspot for innovation and pushing back boundaries. A place where innovation plays a crucial role. A mindset that after all these centuries still takes us to the farthest corners of the world. Together with my team, Port of Antwerp and the port platform, we are now creating just such a place. A playing field on which we innovate and dare to experiment, sharing, testing, learning and optimising. A place where you can be ambitious in spotting and seizing opportunities. With the arrival of Jacques Vandermeiren as our new CEO two years ago the Port of Antwerp has set a new course. Digital transformation is an important part of this. The business plan acts as a compass for us, showing the direction to follow for further transformation.

Which achievements are you most proud of?

I'm most proud of the foundations that we have laid as a team in the space of just one year. Taking the business plan as our basis we have further outlined our vision as the digital and innovation department. This clearly demonstrates where we stand and why our organisation devotes so much resources and personnel to digitisation.

But I'm also proud of our role as community builder. As the Port Authority we play a pioneering role in terms of innovation and digitisation. By acting as a bridge builder we aim to help companies in the port to embrace digital innovation. Our ambition is to develop a digital nervous system covering the entire port, with smart cameras, sensors and drones, so that we're fully aware of what is happening at all times and are able to respond appropriately. We aim to make the fullest possible use of our existing infrastructure and to use it as a lever for digitisation, with initiatives such as Nxtport, the data platform for the port. Collaboration is essential for this, in order to score shared wins. We strive to be an open and innovative hub that is receptive to new technologies.

Initiatives such as PortXL (start-ups), The Beacon (IoT-ecosystem) and Chainport (collaboration with other leading international ports) all form part of this collaboration. Technologies such as blockchain, augmented reality or artificial intelligence can also demonstrate their usefulness for our port in future.

Can your approach inspire other companies?

With my passion and drive I like to get other people moving as well. This award will give me additional visibility that I can use to encourage others to embrace digital innovation and to seize opportunities. Within our own port communities this is aimed in the first place at the wider logistics chain and its administrative handling. But I also wish to address the non-IT public. In the coming year I will absolutely take the opportunity to speak with other C-levels and explain clearly to them what digitisation involves and what role a CIO or CDIIO play here. With this award I look forward to making my own contribution.

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