Tracking Software Boosts Seaport Business

When I first met Chris Lambie, the new Herald Business Editor, I explained that I always strive for my column to be about real life business situations where technology plays a part, and to speak from personal experience as opposed to secondary research.

Why not then write a story about my company and something it has done for the local community, suggested Chris.

“You can do that?” I asked. I’m just a computer guy, not a journalist.

You can do whatever you want, explained Chris, provided you give full disclosure. So here goes:

This is a story by me about my company, and about the Port of Halifax, with collaboration from people there who are my customers.

And it’s a good story.

At the Halifax Port Days event this fall, one of the presenters was from Mattel, the world’s largest toy manufacturer, makers of Hot Wheels and Barbie.

He explained to us how Mattel’s  toys are manufactured in Thailand and Malaysia and traditionally have been  shipped to Canada by way of the Pacific Ocean, then landed in Vancouver.  They were then put on a train for final delivery to Mattel’s main warehouse in Toronto, a long journey that meant difficulty in meeting customer demand.

So the Halifax Port Authority convinced Mattel that they should move their goods through Halifax, even though the Atlantic Ocean journey is two days longer than over the Pacific.

Once it arrives at port, however, Mattel’s cargo typically reaches its final destination in Toronto several days faster if via Halifax, and this is where my company comes in the picture.

Nicom IT Solutions wrote a Container Tracking System to track container transit times, as well as times containers sit idle in yards, something called dwell time, and managing this information leads to huge efficiencies. This system replaced a reporting process that required daily input from many stakeholders, a process that was often delayed due to inherent complexities.

Now information is gathered from data provided electronically by transportation partners in an IT industry standard known as EDI 322, which enables the Halifax Port Authority to determine where any problems and delays might exist.

EDI stands for Electronic Data Interchange, a standard for transmitting data in a structured format which has been with us since the 1960’s. The 322 subset deals with intermodal cargo activity, which means using more than one mode of transportation, ship-to-rail for example.

The Container Tracking System provides ongoing analysis and tracking trends in container traffic. Within one and a half years of using this system, the Halifax Port Authority was able to demonstrate significant reduction in overall transit time, generally in the area of 25% to 35%. This is something that gives the Port of Halifax great competitive advantage.

We also built a web-based query feature that provides container status and movement history to customers of the Port, which in turn helps them in their activities. It also provides them another good reason to pick Halifax as their port of choice.

Next steps for  the Container Tracking System is to enhance it so as to track outbound containers – i.e. tracking containers from inland pickup to loading in Halifax.

The American Association of Port Authorities, or AAPA, recently recognized the Port of Halifax’s achievements with this system by giving them an award for improvements in intermodal freight transportation.

It turns out that Halifax will be hosting the 2010 AAPA annual conference. Guaranteed, you’ll be seeing lots of press on that next year.

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