Beyond ROI: How benchmarking and KPI tracking can better reveal the true value of technology investm



Allen Thomas, Vice President Operations, APS Technology Group of San Diego, CA, USA


Labour costs, in both developed and developing countries, seem continually on the rise. Traditionally, when evaluating the impact of process automation technology investments, like those involving OCR, RFID, and GPS automation solutions, considerable emphasis is placed on the ROI derived solely from labour force reductions. Many terminal operators, keen on reducing rising operating costs and reliance on unionised labour, may feel the pressure to prematurely begin these projects without clearly defining the real business value that’s achievable. One alternative is to look beyond basic ROI and labour reductions and focus first on how the technology solution benefits the core business of a terminal.

In short, to instead measure how the solution will impact and improve the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) on which the terminal is judged. Many of today’s terminal operators, some of which are forced to utilise automation technology to increase productivity and throughput capacity, are leveraging expanded analysis models to maximise their investments. Specifically, they are subscribing to the belief of ‘what you can’t measure, you can’t manage’ and are first benchmarking key metrics and KPIs of their current operations. By doing so and by defining clear project goals, they then facilitate a process in which success, failure and ROI can be evaluated objectively.

In the two profiles below, separate terminal operators and two process automation projects are highlighted. Two important productivity measures, Land Utilisation and Gate Throughput, were benchmarked and tracked to better prove the real impact of the technology investment.

KPI focus: increase Gate Throughput for Ports America

APS Technology Group worked with Ports America operations management to define three key goals prior to beginning a gate automation project at their terminal in Baltimore, MD. To be successful, the project needed to provide:

1. Increased throughput capacity at the exit lanes by 100 per cent

2. Reduction of gate traffic queues associated with slow transaction processing

3. Data integration into the existing Navis Express and gate control systems.

To meet these goals, APS provided its Gate OCR Portal system at each of the four exit lanes of the facility. The solution was installed in the existing lane plaza and provided a realtime identification of container and chassis (trailers) via Optical Character Recognition (OCR).


• 500 per cent increase in Gate Throughput capacity

• Elimination of gate queues and backup of traffic into the container yard

• Increased safety and security by relocating inspection clerks from the lanes to a remote area where any system exceptions could be managed via system software.

KPI Focus: increase Lifts/hour and Land
Utilisation for TraPac Terminals

As an early adopter of technology and process automation solutions, TraPac has bought or developed a host of applications over their history as the terminal operator for MOL in the U.S. After developing their own GPS-enabled Position Determination System (PDS) to maintain inventory within their grounded container yard, TraPac realised the visibility limitations of such a system at two critical points of work: under the STS crane and adjacent to each RTG.

They also found that the manual identification of containers at each of the points of work was introducing errors into their TOS. APS and TraPac’s operations  management worked to first analyse their Los Angeles terminal’s operations to establish some performance benchmarks. They then defined four key goals for the
operation prior to beginning a process automation project at their terminal in Los Angeles, CA.

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