Better together

Joined up: container terminals work better when the information flows. Credit: Mike Linksvayer
Joined up: container terminals work better when the information flows. Credit: Mike Linksvayer
Manual Perez, XVELA
Industry Database

XVELA's Manuel Perez discusses the urgent need to improve synergies between terminals and carriers

All ports are interrelated in one way or another and 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 in each other’s 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, or contain, this effect by having a closer or 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/disruptions through a kind of 'quid pro quo' relationship forged after years of stepping on each other’s toes. They have realised that they are both part of the same network and that collaboration pays off, even in a rivalry situation. However this scenario is the exception rather than the rule.

Others build up this co-operation between terminals through one of its carriers. 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 other’s efficiency' is a given.

In these examples, 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 terminals to react faster and more wisely.

When the terminal is a hub the entire network benefits from having a healthy hub. In the same respect, 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 better plan and pursue opportunities.

 

Efficiency increase

Synergies among terminals combined with the will of the carriers that can contribute have the power to significantly increase efficiency in the industry. The more information shared in advance between the previous terminal, the carriers and the next terminal, the greater the potential for improvement in the planning process.

This planning stage happens before the data is imported into the terminal operating system and can adjust move-counts, arrival times and connections to improve the berthing management and yard planning. It also can help steer vessel planning processes on the carrier side to increase the operational efficiency and productivity.

With this is mind, would it be possible to create some type of 'league of terminals' with a motto of collaboration and where synergies among the different partners are strengthened? A league that will protect a common network and where the decision making process takes into account the network effect, or at very least the consequences of a decision are visible to all parties at an earlier stage? A league where the carriers obtain benefits from helping terminals to improve their performance, maximise their assets and eliminate waste?

This may sound like a chimera, as in today’s world collaboration is still not in the DNA of the industry. Carrier alliances are driven mainly by survival. The blame culture is the bargaining chip between carriers and terminals. It is an unpleasant atmosphere where providing a forecast on moves, ETA, or berthing time leads to a reproachful boomerang effect when the estimation does not materialise as anticipated.

Without commitment from the carriers and an openness from terminals it is difficult to improve this transparency, visibility and flexibility. Could XVELA's cloud-based collaboration platform aid a change in behaviour? The necessary shift 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. Before 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 optimisation.

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