by Andrea Benito

How automation helps Abu Dhabi Terminals work remotely

May 06, 2020
Artificial IntelligenceBusiness ContinuityCloud Computing

Arturo García, chief automation officer at Abu Dhabi Terminals, shares best practices for enabling a remote workforce and supporting business continuity, one of the key challenges during the coronavirus crisis.

arturo garcia
Credit: Abu Dhabi Terminals

The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on health and the global economy is forcing companies to face one of the greatest business challenges in recent decades. Many of the changes that enterprises need to make in order to continue key business operations, such as a move to remote work, depend on technology.  

Working remotely, though, is not something new for Abu Dhabi Terminals (ADT), established in 2006 and located at Khalifa Port, halfway between Abu Dhabi and Dubai. ADT’s core business is managing and operating the Khalifa Port Container Terminal (KPCT), which is the largest semi-automated port in the region.

Since commencing operations in 2012, ADT has used technology to remotely operate some of the day-to-day functions in the container yard. Remote Operating Stations (ROSes) in the operations centre allow operators to load and unload containers from trucks remotely, as opposed to having operators in the cranes. The company is in the process of automating this process in order to improve efficiency. ADT also uses remote operators located at its BPO (business processing outsourcing) centre in the Philippines to handle exceptions and remotely operate the truck gates.

“Automation is key,” according to Arturo García, chief automation officer at ADT. The terminal operator’s vision, since its inception, is to bring and maintain consistency across its operations. This is why it’s invested heavily in automation technology – the key, along with cloud, to its business continuity plan.

Automation helps maintain productivity

“The COVID-19 situation has shown that our investment has paid dividends by allowing us to be better peepared to handle any situation without impacting service to our customers. There has been no reduction in productivity, proving that ADT was far better prepared than other terminals worldwide,” Garcia says. “We are taking the lessons learned from the COVID-19 situation and incorporating these into our five-year plan to assure that we can easily handle any future crisis,” he adds.

Excluding operators, mechanics, and security personnel, ADT has nearly 100 percent of its employees working remotely. These remote workers include staff in Management, Information Technology, Finance, Commercial, Human Resources, and Operations Control Center personnel.

“We are able to achieve this because we have a high level of automation and our container yard is 100 percent automated,” Garcia says. To manage automation, ADT uses a terminal operating system (TOS), from California-based Navis.

The TOS controls real-time monitoring, equipment management and unmanned technology such as automated machinery. For robotics, ADT uses two vendors: Konecranes, from Finland, and TMEIC, based in Virginia, in the U.S. The companies supply a variety of cranes and automated shipyard equipment.

“This gives us a tremendous business advantage since we are able to operate with reduced manpower requirements and therefore minimal interruptions. Prior to the COVID-19 situation, we were in the process of further automation in order to assure consistency with our operation,” Garcia says.

Changes in law paves way to use of cloud

Recent changes in UAE law – some of which were spurred by the pandemic – has given ADT more flexibility in how it uses technology to enhance business continuity practices and allow personnel to work remotely.

Historically, ADT was not allowed to use cloud technology, according to UAE law.  A month or two prior to the COVID outbreak, though, the rules changed and permission was granted to use cloud technology (as long as data was kept within the UAE).

Subsequently, due to the spread of the virus and the lockdown in the UAE, the country lifted its ban on VoIP apps, thus allowing companies to use apps such as Microsoft Teams, Skype for Business and Zoom.

Investments made by ADT in cloud technology prior to the coronavirus outbreak have benefited the company. For example, its investment in cloud tech put it in position to make full use of MS Teams. Once the government gave the go-ahead to use Teams, “we immediately employed this platform to hold meetings with our customers, contractors, vendors, and stakeholders in addition to internal meetings,” Garcia says.

The pandemic has essentially sped up the rollout of ADT’s work from home (WH) program, Garcia says. “Our infrastructure and architecture were already in place for the cloud,” he says. “This is the reason we were ready when COVID emerged and were able to easily institute a remote work strategy without any impact on our productivity.”

ADT invests in AI

In addition to automation, ADT is investing heavily in artificial intelligence technology to complement its automation program. “Worldwide, the port industry lags behind other industries when it comes to using new technology,” Garcia explains. “At ADT, we are committed to using the latest cutting-edge technology and are currently working with vendors to develop and deploy artificial intelligence at Khalifa Port. We will be the first terminal on earth to use this technology and this will cement our place as a world leader in the global ports industry.”

 In turbulent times, organizations must ensure business continuity. ADT already had a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) in place, centered on automation and the capability to work remotely. Although the specific situation that now confronts the company was not reflected in the plan, similar scenarios were considered, Garcia explains.

“This has allowed us to respond to and tackle this aggressive scenario in record time. Because we were ahead of the curve, only necessary personnel such as operators, mechanics, technicians, and security need to physically be at the port and all others are working remotely — including our Operations Control Center.”

Within any company, though, the Business Continuity Plan (BCP) should be reviewed on a regular basis and incorporate any new issues that the company has experienced, Garcia says. ADT will be reviewing its own plan.

“Because of COVID, not only will ADT’s BCP change, BCPs worldwide will change,” Garcia said. “This COVID situation has provided a unique learning opportunity for ADT. We quickly responded to the rapidly changing circumstances and this experience has allowed us to learn and grow as an organization.”