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Technology: Your New Right Hand?

Ports interested in streamlining their operations and encouraging the creation of more transparent, more efficient supply chains for their partners are finding the solutions they need in a variety of new technologies.

* By Mary Lou Jay *

Ports interested in streamlining their operations and encouraging the creation of more transparent, more efficient supply chains for their partners are finding the solutions they need in a variety of new technologies.

Many small- to mid-sized ports today are still relying on error-prone, time-consuming manual processes and spreadsheets to manage their activities, according to David Nicholson, senior partner at Nicom Maritime, a custom software development company. “After a while, the ports come to the realization that once business grows [this kind of system] becomes very awkward and very hard to work with. It has a negative impact on their efficiencies,” Nicholson said. Upgrading to more modern technology can provide immediate payoffs.

Last year, Nicom replaced the Port of Beaumont’s old spreadsheet-based system with seaport software custom-designed for the port’s break bulk cargo business. The new software integrates vessel scheduling, cargo tracking and billing, using data pulled automatically from several different sources. With the new information management system, reports that previously took several days to compile can now be created in seconds. Staff time is freed up for other tasks.

Other ports that have upgraded their systems have realized similar benefits, said Nicholson. “What we usually see through the elimination of these spreadsheets and manual processes is a very significant improvement in efficiencies.”

Access to Enterprise Data

Ports frequently use geospatial software to track vessel movement, plan new terminals, monitor storm water discharge, dispatch port security and manage assets. One class of software, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), is particularly popular.

But ports could be doing more with such systems.

“GIS is often misunderstood to be a mere record-keeping and map-making software, and not a critical-mission software that’s capable of connecting disparate information management systems in ways not otherwise possible,” said Daniel Elroi, president of NorthSouth GIS. For example, his company’s software, Enesgy Documents, “allows disjointed processes typically managed with spreadsheets, sketches on prints of maps and files stored everywhere and anywhere on the network to be transformed into highly-integrated, database-driven systems, available from any device, at any time and any location.”

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