The upside of the downturn – post-recession positives for the container terminal industry



Richard Harrison, Managing Director, Maritime, Zebra Enterprise Solutions, Oakland, CA, USA


While the 1990s and 2000s were marked by a scramble for capacity and scale to keep up with the rapid growth that enabled global trade as we know it today, the next decade will be very different. The global economic and financial crisis has sent a shockwave through the entire maritime container transport system. Growth will resume eventually, but the scars from the global recession will take a long time to heal for the terminal sector overall.

However, the recession could have a positive outcome. The sharp decline in traffic has already led some industry innovators to start addressing entrenched business and operational inefficiencies that crept in during the heady days of growth. When the industry finally emerges from the downturn, it could be in leaner and more cost-effective shape. Technology will play one of the largest roles in shaping the industry of the future. Over the next decade, a number of key technology trends will unfold and lead to how the marine terminal of the future will operate and look.

Optimize the enterprise

Forward-looking operators will take a more holistic approach to improve their business performance. Enabled by technology, enterprise best practice will become a growing focus and discipline. More time and resources will be devoted to creating an over-arching IT systems strategy to support this process. Greater attention will be paid to optimizing the terminal as a whole, not just its constituent parts, allowing operators to take advantage of the greater visibility and integration provided by new technologies.

Best practice and business process standardization

Compared with other industries, the maritime sector has been slow to adopt best practice thinking. Many times, technology is deployed simply to automate existing one-off practices, rather than being embraced as a chance to review and improve overall business operations.

Beginning in 2006, new terminal operating systems (TOS) such as Navis SPARCS N4 began enabling easy reconfiguration of software to changing local conditions and needs. This led to operators having a chance to adopt more standard best practice processes. These flexible technology solutions will aid operators in the coming decade to achieve optimization and gain new efficiencies quickly in a cost-effective manner.

Focus on total cost of ownership

Terminal operators will pay much sharper attention to their equipment and systems spend, looking at the ROI for total cost of ownership (TCO) versus just the up-front investment. The desire to drastically reduce the cost and time expended on customizing software will see configurable, open and scalable systems become the de facto standard for most standard business processes.

Manage the network, not the node

Real-time visibility and control of operations across national or regional terminal networks under the control of a single operator could transform the landscape of planning, resource management and customer service.

In doing so, ocean carriers calling at more than one facility can now have a single view into what’s happening right across the network. The terminal operator can track and adjust resources from facility to facility, based on an accurate overview of vessel arrival and departure times. The network management concept may be challenging to consider on a global scale. But the implications for improved management of vessel schedules – long a thorn in the side for carriers and terminals alike – are enormous.

In the immediate future, operators seizing the chance to give shipping lines enhanced visibility across networks, rather than just at a single node, should certainly gain a competitive advantage. New TOS systems that allow for this could also help operators centralize back-office administration and other higher level functions, as an internal service to the business. Rather than having to deploy staff at each facility, adoption of the multi-site single-server (MSSS) model could allow the creation of regional or even global centers of expertise for highly skilled functions such as vessel planning, as well as administrative and customer service functions. And, all of this can be integrated in real-time with individual terminal operations.

Empower customers and communities

The proliferation of the Internet, developments in wireless and satellite connectivity and rapid advances in mobile devices are dramatically changing the global communication landscape. Fast and seamless access to large amounts of data is becoming the new norm.

This trend toward 24/7 self-service information will only accelerate over the new decade. Terminal operators can reap significant business advantages by incorporating this new reality into their business processes. Closer integration of terminals into the whole supply chain has long been seen as a holy grail for the industry and its customers.

Terminal operators now have a chance to adopt the ‘Google model’ and offer their web-based TOS as a tool for shippers, agents, shipping lines, truckers, customs and others to share information, manage processes and communicate. The cost implications are minimal – in fact, getting customers to enter the data will yield savings. Meanwhile, the chance to build customer loyalty and facilitate better community-wide interaction is significant.

Cookie Policy. This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website.