Features

The Rise and Rise of Terminal Operating Systems

It’s no secret vessels are getting larger, cargo is becoming more varied and complex, and throughput at ports and terminals is increasing. At the same time, competition is becoming more fierce and customers are demanding more. All of these factors are putting intense pressure on terminal operators to do more, more accurately and more efficiently.

The situation has led an increasing number of operators to seek more control over their business by deploying a terminal operating system (TOS).  A TOS sits at the operational core, allowing a port's complex mix of cargo movements to be handled and controlled more efficiently. It gives the business a competitive edge by providing increased agility along with a boost in productivity across the operator's entire organisation.

In-house or commercial solution?

Any organisation considering deployment of a TOS has two options: develop a solution in-house or purchase a specialised commercial system. 

One of the problems of in-house developments is the exposure to risk.  TOS solutions are often developed by just one or two individuals within the IT department.  If either individual leaves, there is a high risk that essential knowledge about the system – information necessary for its maintenance and further development – will be lost. In these circumstances, how will you deal with the need for system improvement, modifications or interfaces to future applications?

In contrast, commercial TOS vendors continually develop their products to keep pace with changes in technology, legislation and the industry, for without constant improvement, their offerings soon become uncompetitive.

What to consider when selecting a TOS

Just as every terminal has its own requirements, every TOS deployment is different.  The areas you give precedence to will depend on your individual situation. However, one of the best places for any organisation to start is by understanding your current landscape, particularly your business model, people and processes, as well as the part you play in the wider supply chain community.  

Understand your Business Model

If you want a more efficient port and a TOS is key to achieving that, you need to find a solution that really fits your business, rather than attempting to “make do” with a generic TOS.

Major considerations are likely to include the type and volume of cargo you currently handle, the type and size of ships your port can accommodate and your vision and plans for future growth.

Look for flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances. While you may be comfortable with your current situation, market and industry changes could force you to re-evaluate your goals and objectives, causing your business model to adjust accordingly.

Determine functional requirements

Having addressed macro-level business needs, it is time to think about the more functional aspects of your operation.  Consider whether other areas of the business, such as a depot or warehouse within the terminal, could benefit from the functionality provided by a TOS.  Think about the potential for any current or planned use of mobile applications, optical character recognition (OCR) and radio frequency identification (RFID). 

Understanding your business model allows to you to build a clearer picture of your organisation’s current landscape, your vision for the future, and the tools and processes required for success.

Supply Chain

A TOS is not just about your own organisation – it is your entry ticket for involvement in the wider supply chain. There are a variety of stakeholders and areas of interaction where your TOS needs to be the hub of activity and co-ordination. Shipping lines, transport hauliers and customs are just a few examples of the agencies and organisations reliant on clear communications and interactions with your terminal.

Therefore it is essential to check in advance that your TOS is capable of connecting to partner systems and can make the appropriate data available to the relevant decision-makers within the supply chain.

People and Processes

When it comes to processes, don't just think about your current situation.  Be clear about how they may change in the future.

The TOS vendor should be able to assist you with this, as well as provide guidance on the flexibility of the TOS with respect to meeting your requirements. Your aim is to strike the right balance between making changes to the process itself, or customisation of the product, whichever makes the most sense to your organisation.

Never forget that while processes are necessary to drive the business, people are the keys to your success. Any form of change can be unsettling for staff. They need to adapt to new ways of working and deal with uncertainty and disruption to ‘business as they know it’. Involving users as early as possible and providing clear communication about changes will help to mitigate any resistance and increase the likelihood of successful adoption.

Knowledge makes for more successful decisions

Addressing the key elements of business model, people and processes, and your supply chain in advance allows you to build a picture of your current positioning, to pinpoint where you would like to be in the future, and identify the changes you need to make to get there. Armed with this information, you'll be well-equipped to select a system that is scalable enough to grow with your business and the wider supply chain community.

Kaustubh Dalvi is the director of sales for Jade Logistics.

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