All ports are interrelated in one way or another. What happens in a port affects the next one at a minimum. Terminals in the same geographical area with short transit times have, on many occasions, a significant impact on each others performance which is usually accepted with a sigh of resignation. This dependency between terminals is however more critical when one of the terminals is a hub and the consequences of the disruptions affects an entire network.
Some terminals have tried to manage (contain) this effect by having a closer/healthier association between pairs of terminals where, in the absence of collaboration from the carrier, they interchange container status information, stowage plans and inform each other of deviations and disruptions… in some kind of “quid pro quo” relationship forged after years of stepping on each others toes. They realized they are both part of the same network and collaboration pays off even in a rivalry situation. This scenario, however, is the exception.
Others have built up cooperation between terminals through one of the carriers that sees the benefit of partnering with one of the terminals, which is key to its network. And this partnering can be taken a step further when a carrier, such as Maersk Line, has the luxury of having dedicated terminals within the group and the vision of creating a unique hybrid (Maersk-APMT) environment where “protect the network” and “improve each others efficiency” is a given.
In all these examples: planning ahead, having constant visibility on the pre-carrier ships (from the previous ports) in terms of ETA accuracy and earlier data availability (including intended connections) is the common denominator. This allows the terminals to react faster and more wisely. Consequently when the terminal is a hub the entire network would benefit from having a “healthy hub”. On the other hand, reciprocity in the real-time transparency provided by the hub at the time the decisions are taken is crucial and helps the rest of the terminals (including other hubs) to plan better and pursue opportunities.
Thus, it is the synergies among terminals and the will of the carriers to contribute that will significantly increase efficiency in the industry. The more information shared in advance between the previous terminal and the carriers (feeder and mother vessels) and the next terminal, the more the planning process can improve. This planning stage happens before the data is imported into the TOS (terminal operating system) and has not only the key purpose of adjusting move-counts, arrival times and connections to improve the berthing management and yard planning, but it also makes it possible to steer the vessel planning process on the carrier side to increase the operational efficiency and productivity.
Without this collaboration among terminals and carriers, the possibilities of larger improvements are very limited as the scenarios tend to be reactive. This is because the response time is very close to the actual operations resulting in a state in which many decisions have been taken already or, even worse, have not even been considered.
But… Is it possible in this industry to create some type of “league of terminals” where synergies among the different partners are strengthened and collaboration is the motto? A league that will protect a common network and where the decision making process takes into account the network effect or at least the consequences are visible to all parties at an earlier stage? A league where the carriers obtain a benefit by helping the terminals to improve their performance, maximize their assets and eliminate waste?
This may sound like a chimera. In today’s world collaboration is still not in the DNA of the industry. Carrier alliances are driven mainly by the aim of surviving. The “blaming culture” is the bargaining chip between carriers and terminals. It is an unpleasant atmosphere where providing a forecast (moves, ETA, berthing time…) always has a reproachful boomerang effect when the estimation does not materialize as anticipated. This leads to an environment where deadlines are the thin red line between the unknown and the final confirmation.
As mentioned already, without the commitment from the carriers and the openness of the terminals it is difficult to improve this transparency, visibility and flexibility. However if a platform were to provide the required structure and articulation of the process, it would facilitate the implementation of this necessary partnership. Sometimes it is the means to justify the end. The solution becomes an important part of the reason to change behavior that is already on people’s mind but needs an impetus and tools to convert desire into actionable steps.
Manuel Perez is director of product management at XVELA. He joined Navis to manage the design, development and execution of XVELA products. Prior to joining Navis, Manuel worked for Maersk Line for 17 years in various operational roles and led the development of several IT projects focused on efficiencies and process optimization.
XVELA is a cloud-based solution that provides a collaboration platform for ocean carriers and terminal operators. XVELA enables its users to easily collaborate in the vessel stowage planning and execution process, providing the necessary visibility to positively impact the overall terminal related planning and carrier network performance. A network that can provide real-time transparency that enables increases in efficiency and new cost savings.
by Manuel Perez, Director Product Management, XVELA