Guidelines for choosing a terminal operating system



Constantine Sokolov, director of business development, Solvo Ltd., St. Petersburg, Russia


At some point, every manager in charge of port or cargo terminal operations will come face to face with the question: what is the best way to increase productivity, reduce the frequency of personnel and equipment idle periods, improve document management and planning, and establish a proper system for reporting?

Sooner or later, one will arrive at the conclusion that a comprehensive solution to this entails a real system, which is capable of establishing order not only for terminal operations but for personnel and documentation as well.

Hidden pitfalls

Many start by brainstorming in an attempt to tackle the issue from every angle, holding lengthy discussions and assigning the most experienced employees to categorise and cram all operative matters into one huge spreadsheet. However, the problems arising when maintaining such a table never seem to cease, and with increasing turnover and new personnel, the table quickly becomes obsolete, while everyone starts to regret the loss of time and dozens of disparate spreadsheets.

Many even go further. The experienced and intelligent are teamed up with computer experts fresh out of school in an attempt to create a proprietary program that will be proudly touted as a system. Such projects often consume vast amounts of material resources and time. The result is that everyone arrives at the realisation that all of these ambitious efforts have not come to fruition as hoped. Building a new program in the 21st century from scratch is similar in complexity to inventing Windows or the iPhone anew.

The most pragmatic and efficient of people will understand that many operational and business processes at ports and cargo terminals have long been defined and optimised. The biggest and most productive terminals are equipped with automated management systems that are capable of increasing efficiency and reducing down times of equipment and personnel. These systems establish order in the flow of documents and reporting while enabling optimal planning and control.

The number of such solutions on the market is relatively large and therefore, in order to choose the right system which can address the problems of a specific terminal by performing the functions of an assistant, secretary, dispatcher, planner, accountant etc. it is first necessary to establish clearly defined selection criteria.

Things to consider

The following criteria was established due to decades of experience in implementing and working with information management systems on a global scale and can serve as a benchmark for choosing the most optimal system.

The vendor

Firstly, consider the number of successfully completed projects by the vendor you are considering, and their experience in the given industry. It is very important to determine whether the vendor has certified, tried and tested, industry-specific solutions, which can be tailored to the requirements and preferences of a specific terminal, for example, solutions for container or dry terminals. The size of the vendor company, its available resources for development and implementation are important.

There must be an experienced implementation team and an effective personnel training system provided during and after the implementation period. In view of their global policy, many venders often limit training to just a few or even one companyclient worker. There is no special focus on the quality of training at individual workstations and as a result, the advantages of using such a system might go completely untapped while large amounts of resources are squandered on software and implementation. Round-the-clock multi-language support should also be available if appropriate, as well as adaptability in offering the ability to integrate the system with various equipment and other systems. Of course, the rational cost of ownership and a transparent pricing policy are also key factors to examine. The system You need to consider the scalability of the system. In other words, system performance should not be affected by increasing turnover, number of personnel and overall scale of operations.

Think about the modularity of the system ie. the ability to expand its functionality by means of installing additional modules for handling new tasks. There is a need to be able to segment and conduct step-by-step implementation of the system at any stage of terminal development and at any production capacity level. Here, you should consider factors such as: the operative part, responsible for physical processes at the terminal; the document management system, automating the flow of documents and interaction with clients, service providers and administrative bodies; the statistical data system responsible for reports and analytics; and additional modules for billing, webportal,or terminal topology editor, (which presents a bird’s eye view of the terminal in real time). Vendors frequently provide only the operative part or the record-keeping component by itself, while marketing it as a fully integrated solution. Therefore, it is important to keep this in mind when viewing the vendor’s demonstration of the system.


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