Due to the recent pandemic of early 2020 known as COVID-19, key topics have been on changes in physical and social interactions and trading structures, importance of in-tertwining physical and virtual worlds. In addition, there is an urgency in identifying new digital business models that are feasible, which is on the priority lists for many actors. The effects of COVID-19 and exacerbation of the economy has been felt around the globe, despite differences in region, size of economy or production struc-ture of economies. In particular, the most sensitive sector that is under threat due to COVID-19, is the services sector.
One of the key challenges related to the threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic is on preservation of employment and protecting staff who are working in port opera-tions and struggling to keep ports operating for ship calls. This service is deemed to b crucial for the EU and European ports, since 75% of the EU external trade and 30% of intra-EU transport goods are moved by waterborne transport. As a response to the global lockdown and vulnerability of global supply chains, several international or-ganisations and maritime ports networks have shortlisted measures necessary to keep severe effects of the lockdown to a minimal. One of key measures identified is on how to limit physical interactions. In this particular context, the use and increasing deployment of digital technologies, such as digital documentation, tracing information systems, digital group-working platforms, Blockchain and data-enabling systems have become to be recognized as a core element maintaining the uninterrupted flows of goods and services at ports.
Technological platforms are expanding into different aspects of our daily life. One of the most critical challenges that the transportation and logistics industry is facing is on how to move people and cargo safely and efficiently. Access to real-time data is crucial for companies to determine how to improve operational efficiency and per-formance. With tailor made Internet of Things (IoT) or Industry 4.0 solutions, trans-portation and logistics enterprises connect devices to accelerate productivity. As a re-sult, connected vehicles and traffic management centres make transportation more se-cure, improve safety and traffic flow, and reduce costs for greater scale.
In pursuit of these goals, this research paper addresses the current situation afflicting small and medium-sized ports located on the Baltic Sea to be seen as critical actors of the ecosystem. Given the topicality of this research and taking the research gap into account, the authors suggest a conceptual capacity building framework for port em-ployees. This suggested framework is based on empirical insights: primary and sec-ondary data collected from a project; “Connect2SmallPorts”, part-financed by the In-terreg South Baltic Programme 2014-2020 from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). The conceptual framework aims towards a practical training pro-gramme dedicated to fill in missing skills or expand limited human resources’ compe-tences and ports’ capacity when adapting or advancing digitalisation in ports’ ecosys-tems. In particular, specific organisational areas of capacity building are addressed and individual solutions suggested, such as for management, administration, logistics and marketing. In face of the COVID-19 pandemic the need to switch to digital services is paramount for ports to operate and is supported by evidence obtained from the re-search findings. The conceptual training framework is designed as an online/distance training tool showing opportunities to help ports upgrade their infrastructure in terms of safety and security with Blockchain technology; to advance transportation, envi-ronmental and economic performance with the improved digitalisation. For this pur-pose, the research that was conducted employed as methodology action research and deployed concepts and approaches based upon the management field. For example, absorptive capacity construct, organisational learning, transformation, resourced-based view and dynamic capabilities concept are included in the ecosystem discourse and linked with open innovation and service design. The research presented in this paper provides both theoretical and practical contributions, where the affected stake-holders can test and utilise the developed tool as well as transfer it to other regions.