Port of Helsinki
10.12.2018 17:49:21 //
Juha Peltonen
Sanna Liimatainen

A vision of the world’s best functioning port

The Port of Helsinki’s goal is to become the world’s most functional port. To this end, the company will execute the key projects selected by Ville Haapasaari soon after he became CEO. The key projects will be the most important activity undertaken by the Port in the next few years.

The Port of Helsinki’s vision is derived from the strategy of the Port’s owner, the City of Helsinki: Helsinki aims to be the world’s most functional city. According to the CEO, Ville Haapasaari, the vision of the world’s most functional port is ideally suited to the Port of Helsinki.

“Functionality is associated with cost effectiveness, efficient operation, and smooth traffic arrangements and logistics, as well as customer satisfaction and the customer experience that the Port provides to passengers,” Haapasaari says.

There are no international indicators that Helsinki could use to prove that it is the world’s most functional city, nor do any such indicators exist for ports.

“The main point of the vision is that it guides our activities in the right direction and inspires our personnel as well as the partners who will help to realise it.”

Becoming the world’s most functional port is an ambitious objective. How far off is the objective?

“In certain areas, we are doing well. If we compare with the ports close to us, Helsinki has good, modern infrastructure, particularly in terms of cargo but also in the passenger business, thanks to the development of the West Harbour.”

Haapasaari previously served as a director at Helsinki Airport, and he has noticed that international benchmarking in the port sector is still in its infancy.

“All of the major airports evaluate customer satisfaction using the same method. There is no standard method for the shipping business – not even in the Baltic Sea.”

The Port of Helsinki’s strategy in a nutshell.

Indicators of the passenger experience

When Haapasaari began working as the Port of Helsinki’s CEO at the beginning of April, he started by familiarising himself with the company’s operations, personnel and stakeholders. Work began immediately on updating the strategy. The last big strategy effort had taken place in 2015.

The process was concise, as the main policies were approved by the company’s board of directors before midsummer. The decision was taken to realise the new vision by executing key projects.

“We decided upon the key matters for the next three to five years. The essential thing is that when we concentrate on them, we will not be concentrating on anything else. Of course, there is still a lot of basic activity that needs to continue working,” Haapasaari says.

The largest focal shift in the key projects is the strive to understand the experience of end customers. In the port sector, customer relationships are usually taken to refer to shipping companies and operators. In terms of passenger traffic, the end customer is the passenger.

“It is a basic matter to measure the customer experience systematically. Then we will have methods for understanding which types of passengers we have and we will see the changing trends that services can be taken towards. At the same time, we must look at which extra services the port is able to provide to these customers.”

According to Haapasaari, this does not just mean commercial offerings. Above all, it refers to a seamless passenger experience. It is connected with parking solutions and the possibility to transition smoothly from one mode of transport to another.

Efficiency through digital solutions

In forthcoming years, the port’s operations will focus on operational efficiency.

“Our infrastructure is in quite good condition, but some processes still need to be developed. This brings us to an assessment of which types of project we could execute to make the freight transport chain flow more smoothly. In the future, there will be a lot of discussion about digital solutions,” Haapasaari says.

Digital technology is used in freight traffic with the aim of making data more readily available: when a certain freight unit is on land, when it can be collected – and how the data is presented to all of the parties involved.

In the passenger business, operational efficiency will be affected by the ways in which up-to-date information on port services is available in different channels.

Traffic projects are the most challenging

The most challenging area of activity for the port is currently related to the key project to become a functional part of the city.

“It is not enough for the port area alone to function. There must be smooth access to and from the port area for freight units as well as passengers.”

The traffic generated by the harbours in the city centre and the traffic arrangements around the harbours are concerns shared by residents and decision-makers alike, and they are also visible to passengers.

“At peak times, boarding a ship is not the smoothest experience possible,” Haapasaari says.

The port has been a topic of heated discussion among the various decision-making bodies involved in transport planning and urban construction.

“We need to make progress on the subject of traffic arrangements, particularly for the West Harbour. During the autumn, we took a few good steps forwards. There are some good plans for the area.”

The EU-funded Twin Port 3 project will also focus on improving traffic arrangements. A grant for both the city and the port has been earmarked for this project. Next year, the port’s operating area in the West Harbour will become denser to make way for urban construction. According to Haapasaari, this will improve traffic arrangements, particularly those for heavy goods transportation.

“It will also require major investment.”

A survey is currently underway on one of the city’s most complex traffic problems: the western link, which is the crossing between the Mechelininkatu, Porkkankatu and Tyynenmerenkatu streets.

“Harbour traffic accounts for a small part of this, but when a ship arrives in port and discharges vehicle traffic, it becomes congested,” Haapasaari says.

Dynamic pricing

The Port of Helsinki has given thought to the ways it could influence the flow of traffic. Various pricing models were studied during the autumn.

“We are heading for a model where the first steps towards dynamic pricing will be adopted in the pricing structure. This means that there will be separate charges for freight traffic in the city centre harbours at peak times. The aim is to spread traffic out – particularly heavy goods traffic – between the various departures,” Haapasaari says.

At the same time, the port is planning price-related incentives with the aim of increasing the amount of freight traffic between Vuosaari and Estonia. In terms of tonnage, the route to Tallinn is the largest of all of the international routes from the port.

Social responsibility will also be an important issue in the near future, as the Port of Helsinki intends to be a pioneer in sustainable development. The Port is still working on its social responsibility programme, and a carbon-neutrality programme will be prepared next year. A tangible aspect of the programmes will be environmental responsibility, part of which includes the energy efficiency of the company’s own buildings.

Over the longer term, the Port of Helsinki is considering incentives for seeking lower-emission models with the other entities operating in the port. These may be related to equipment and the development of ship technology, such as automatic ship mooring and on-shore electrical equipment.

Timeline for expanding Vuosaari

Although freight traffic depends on economic cycles, Haapasaari is preparing a growth strategy for the Port of Helsinki. He is keen to point out that the Port is primarily an infrastructure operator, and port infrastructure development projects cannot be completed overnight. A long-term investment plan will be carved out in the autumn.

“It will be necessary to think about the roles of different parts of the port. In the city centre harbours, this will mean services for passengers, the passenger experience and, above all, keeping the infrastructure in good condition. As for Vuosaari, it will come down to the amount of capacity that is sufficient for handling traffic over the long term.”

There is room for expansion in Vuosaari, but acquiring all the permits and completing land in-fill will take years of work.

“A timeline needs to be drawn up for an expansion in Vuosaari. Within a couple of years, work will begin to make the fairway deeper,” Haapasaari says.

Organisation brought in line with the strategy

In the early autumn, the Port of Helsinki updated its organisational structure to bring it in line with the new strategy. The concept of splitting the business up geographically was abandoned.

“We changed the divisions and now we have a passenger business and a freight business. The passenger business requires a focus on end customers and service development. In the freight business, we cannot optimise only one part of the port: instead, we need to look at it from the perspective of the business. It also creates clarity for customers when there is a single point of contact.”

Management restructuring was carried out in relation to the overhaul. Jukka Kallio, the Director of Vuo­saari harbour, took on responsibility for cargo. Sari Nevanlinna will begin working as Vice President of Passenger Services at the start of December. Kari Noroviita, who was responsible for the passenger harbours, will become Vice President of Technical Services.

Haapasaari considers human resources to require major development within his organisation. An HR director will be appointed at the beginning of next year, and this person will also become a member of the management team. Until now, the company has got by with a human resources manager.

“HR management must be more closely involved in the management of the company as a whole. We need people to bring our vision and key projects to fruition,” says Haapasaari.

Haapasaari is a solution-oriented CEO with a strong belief in the power of collaboration. 

“I had underestimated the amount of debate related to traffic and the politics involved. This matter is important in terms of the overall logistics in Finland, but it is a local issue and it can be addressed through good collaboration.”