A Digital Evolution

February 28, 2022

TOS providers help cater to a growing need for more efficient, reliable digital processes, Lacey Jones reports.

For almost two years ports and terminals have had to face an unreliable supply chain plagued by container imbalance, vessel cancellation and now the industry wrestles with unprecedented demand. The logical solution is to expand a terminal’s infrastructure – build new yards, open new warehouses – but ports only have so much room to build upon and so much money to spend. Expanding upon a port’s digital infrastructure can be the next best thing.

Carlos Barbera, senior director of product management at Navis, told CM: “Delivering software solutions is faster than having to expand the yard facility, which requires a lot of resources and time, but software is even faster if you have cloud-based solutions."

Navis is a strong advocate for cloud-based technology, most notably making use of it through its N4 terminal operating system (TOS) which was launched as a cloud-based service back in 2020. Cloud-based solutions are particularly suited to smaller terminals for which total cost of ownership is a big concern. 

With a cloud-based solution, a smaller terminal has no need to have its own data centre onsite and an IT team with all the right skills. “Being able to outsource all of that to Navis or other operators in the industry means that they can really focus on running their operations and is a huge advantage to them,” Barbera added.

For larger terminal operators that manage many facilities around the world, the benefits of a cloud-based solution look a little different. Such companies may already have data centres and skilled IT teams onsite, but the cloud can enable centralised resources that can be shared across multiple facilities. Then there is the ability to access the systems from anywhere in the world, offering real-time visibility, which has certainly come in handy during the pandemic.

Scott Holland, chief product officer at Navis, said: “When part of the workforce can’t be physically at the port terminal, operators had to adjust and that drove them from a reliance on daily reports to real-time access to data digitally through the cloud.

“I think we saw an industry that we thought might take a slower curve toward adoption of cloud-based solutions take a much more rapid approach and that’s something we continue to see.”

Such solutions can be a vital tool in tackling the congestion seen today, helping to improve stacking, container flow and help facilitate the transit of import containers from ships to trucks to rail in a more expedited fashion. One of Navis’ aims is to build solutions using more and more data, which is becoming more accessible day by day, to increase the level of intelligence that existing solutions already running at facilities can provide.

Barbera said: “As we design solutions, we have certain principles that are driving the design of everything that we do, every software solution that we provide to our customers. We want solutions that are predictive, it’s just not sufficient to know what’s happening right now.”

“We need to know what’s happening in the future, we need to be able to predict demand and to forecast what operations are going to look like so we can help ahead of time, designing the best strategies to deal with congestion, or deal with export containers, or empty containers and so on.”

But while there has been an increased interest in cloud-based solutions, adoption of the technology is not about to happen overnight. In the running of mission-critical operations such as container terminals, things need to evolve one step at a time. Terminal operators are not looking for a big bang approach, but at a more controlled pace.