The future of marine terminal software



Richard Butcher, Group Marketing and Sales Director, IMS Ltd, Southampton, UK


Current market conditions

The container shipping sector has again entered unsettled times. With the world economy still in a state of flux, financial pressures are being exerted across the shipping and transportation chain. All players are looking to squeeze additional revenue and reduce operational costs.

The global carriers are seeking consolidation and economies of scale with the reduction of services, as well as moth-balling smaller vessels and looking at increased capacities for larger vessels, along with more fuel efficient engines and designs to offer some relief against the harsh market forces.

The carriers, along with all the other elements of the transportation supply chain, will be seeking areas to improve and reduce operational costs and drive efficiencies. This is where they start to turn towards newer technology to help achieve these goals.

Container terminals

The current conditions have also taken their toll on the container terminals that serve these carrier groups; they have to become ultra – efficient in order to achieve greater financial returns. Many are facing the challenges imposed by the introduction of the mega container ships: the new 12,000, 14,000 and even 18,000 TEU goliaths (ULCC) that are beginning to call their facilities. These vessels bring challenges for the operational and planning teams: to ensure that every aspect of the port call is optimized in order to maintain the agreed service levels that their carrier principals have come to expect.

Terminals are becoming even more dependent on newer technology and although many might have sufficient solutions that cope with the cargo volumes of today, it is certain that world trade will again start to recover during the next several years. It is now that marine terminal executives should be evaluating their current and future technology requirements.

With restrictions on land usage, environmental issues and the sheer capital costs involved in expanding marine facilities, it is sometimes just not feasible for terminals to further expand the facilities they operate. Thus the pressure will be on delivering greater volume throughputs with the terminal space available. This is where the next generation software will play a critical role in the future profitability of the container terminals.

Current solutions

Marine terminals today are running a mixture of technological solutions, either developed internally or sourced from one of the current terminal operating software vendors. These solutions normally embrace four main elements:

1. Operations applications
2. Terminal planning
3. Gate control
4. Financial accounting

1. Operations applications

These core solutions manage the following aspects:

  • Commercial contracts
  • Import documentation
  • Export documentation
  • Gate control
  • Booking and reservation systems (trucks/mother vessels/trains/feeder ships)
  • Customs interface
  • Electronic data interchange (EDI)
  • Human resource aspects
  • Equipment management (terminals handling equipment)
  • Financial processing (collating all the data pertaining to expenses and feeding into a third party financial solution)
  • Cargo claims/damage reports

2. Terminal planning

  • Graphical view of the terminal facility
  • Export stacks
  • Import stacks
  • Damaged stacks
  • Reefer equipment
  • Yard buildings (offices and workshops)
  • Gates
  • Quayside layout

Within the terminal planning application, certain leading players have incorporated:

  • Yard optimization
  • Equipment optimization
  • Vessel scheduling/berth allocation

3. Gate control

  • Inbound control – RFID and automated gates
  • Security scanning and inspection areas
  • Camera capture


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