Home » Opinion » Single Or Multiple IT Providers For Container Terminals?

BY RENE BENDT

DO container terminals do best using a generic and wide IT platform, or are they better off using multiple spot solutions each supporting specific business areas?

The container terminal industry has already concluded it is so unique and particular that industry-generic ERP platforms are not suitable for running the every day operations, unlike the conclusion in many other physical facility centric industries. So we can initially conclude that container terminals indeed are best off being supported by very particular and industry-specific software.

Starting point for most terminal operators is the selection of a broad encompassing operation planning and execution management platform, extending from the planning of vessel load and discharge operation — the TOS—, possible also extending to support billing and community services. Some clusters of operators are aiming for investment-economy of scale by re-deploying internally developed TOS’s across multiple terminals within the group.

But is this all? Is the holy grail just the selection and deployment of the TOS, whether this is a selection from best commercially available platform or a dictation of an internally sponsored TOS, or does it make sense to supplement the TOS with other solutions, or possibly with custom-build platforms?

Terminals predominantly deploying wide-scope IT solutions need to deal with less suppliers both in the acquisition phase and for ongoing support — partly a benefit as it is less complex to deal with multiple external parties, but also a challenge, as the single supplier might not feel sufficiently challenged to deliver outstanding solutions in a non-competitive scenario. On the upside, the terminal gets supplier-guaranteed co-existence and interfacing across all modules, and at times some benefits may be explored across features inside the TOS, which 3rd party vendors will not be able to achieve.

IT Manager from one of Shenzhen in South China’s largest terminals, SCT, Shekou Container Terminal, Karl Xie states, We are part of China Merchants and whilst we are using a commercially available TOS, our holding company have invested in their own TOS, and they insist that we keep options open for the future. If our IT investments are safeguarded irrespectively of which TOS we might use now and in the future, we simply get more flexibility here and now working with 3rd party IT solution providers and can pursue innovative improvements in our operations now benefitting SCT and China Merchants.

Looking at 3rd party — as in non-TOS provider — software solutions, the characteristics of their solutions is often a fairly narrow scope, but in return a very rich and often best-of-breed functionality within that limited scope. Especially larger terminals with very particular characteristics as well as significant competitive opportunities for harvesting the benefits of a best-of-breed solution will look carefully at such options. However, often the price to pay is challenges, when it comes to interacting with the TOS, either due to technical issues or due to the fact that the TOS provider chooses to see this as a threat to their own relationship with the terminal.

Steven Yoogalingam, Operations Manager from PTP, Port of Tanjung Pelepas, Malaysia, adds, Whilst we have a couple of 3rd party solutions supporting our operation, we have recently deployed a TOS-vendor supported interface for a 3rd party solution, which is in the works to become mission-critical for our operations, and it is encouraging to us that our TOS partner takes every-day support responsibility for this critical API so that any issues that may arise get the required attention.

Whilst larger terminals may be prone to looking at supplementary 3rd party software, smaller terminals at times go as far as dictating their initial operational processes around the standard or most common processes supported by an out-of-the-box TOS deployment, in an attempt to keep it simple, at least from the very offset.

Whereas some terminal operators cut themselves out from harvesting from the competitive efforts by the commercial software providers, by holding the IT budgets from group terminals under a tight leash — in particular when terminals have intentions to spend the bucks outside the in-house TOS — others pursue the balance between economy-of-scale and competitive results.

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