Tallinn University of Technology

The world is developing rapidly, yet the idea of a smart small port by the Baltic Sea where everything is fully automated is currently only a dream – such is the premise put forward by Robert Philipp* in the doctoral thesis he defended at the Tallinn University of Technology.


Smart systems are becoming commonplace in an ever increasing number of domains. One of the reasons why small and medium-sized seaports may fall behind the times is that in the present age of globalisation, efforts to innovate are mainly targeted at large ports.

Meanwhile, one thing is clear: seaports, which today form the backbone of the transport network of the global economy, cannot continue in their current form, Philipp writes in his doctoral thesis ‘Smart Seaports as Innovation Drivers for Blue Growth’.

Small ports are facing a number of problems

Seaports – large, medium-sized, and small – play a vital role in global trade as well as in regional industry and development.

At the same time, it is no secret that medium-sized and small ports in peripheral regions are already facing a number of problems, including in regards to better supply chain integration and the identification of appropriate measures. Now, however, they are also forced to tackle various novel, modern challenges arising in conjunction with the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) regulations, the intensified sulphur directives from the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), and the increasing movement towards digitisation.

The goal: regional innovation for smart growth

Nevertheless, the solution to these problems lies precisely in digital transformation, which is why the new framework conditions should not be seen as risks, but as development opportunities, Philipp suggests. Digital transformation is, in fact, the key to tackling the complex challenges faced by small and medium-sized
seaports and the maritime economy in general.

The objective of Philipp’s doctoral thesis was to develop a model that ensures a sustainable digital transformation, so that small and medium-sized ports in the southern region of the Baltic Sea can become the main regional innovation drivers for smart growth in terms of the EU Blue Growth Strategy (promotion of sustainable economic growth in the maritime industry, maritime transport, and the tourism industry in the EU).

Previous studies are incomplete

In his doctoral thesis, Philipp suggests that the environmental and economic performance of ports should be increased incrementally. For these improvements, it is essential to involve small and medium-sized ports in the aforementioned process of digital transformation, otherwise the innovative idea of smart ports can never be realised. According to the author, the realisation of this innovative venture is aggravated by the fact that research on small and medium-sized ports is still in early stages.

Previous studies have pointed out the lack of empirical research that incorporates the specific regionally bound characteristics and perspectives of smaller ports, highlighting multitudinous gaps in the form of missing models and concepts relating to small and medium-sized ports.

Also relevant for Estonia

Although Philipp’s thesis focuses on identifying the growth potential in the southern region of the Baltic Sea and the urgent needs of the specific sub-sectors there for the sustainable economic development of the region, it also contributes significantly to the EU Blue Growth Strategy, the EU’s Integrated Maritime Policy, and the Europe 2020 Strategy.

Thus, it also provides important tips for the development of small ports in Estonia. All ports and organisations that are part of the blue economy, as well as future stakeholders, will find in Philipp’s doctoral thesis an overview of the potential of blockchain and smart contract technologies, the process of digital transformation, and the modern drivers of smart, sustainable, and integrative growth.

* Robert Philipp received his doctorate for his doctoral thesis, which is titled ‘Smart Seaports as Innovation Drivers for Blue Growth’, on the 103rd anniversary of the Tallinn University of Technology, on September 17. At the anniversary ceremony, a total of 66 doctoral degrees were awarded, with the welcoming speech for the doctors held by Siret Malmberg, who completed an industrial doctorate at the Department of Materials and Environmental Technology. An academic speech titled ‘Green Transition, University, and Games/Gambling!?’ was held by Professor and Vice-Dean for Research Argo Rosin at the School of Engineering. Additionally, Mente et Manu medals of merit were awarded.