Automating Ports of Auckland’s container terminal to increase capacity is a critical business strategy for handling increasing demand for freight arising from population growth.
Gerard Naish, head of ICT at POAL, says he and his team support this strategy by introducing a series of innovations, incorporating emerging or disruptive technologies in the process.
These range from data analytics to machine learning to building digital twins to boost operational efficiency.
“Our established data platforms and models have adopted supervised machine learning techniques to support a variety of port operations management and financial analysis initiatives,” cites Naish.
The team also employed a business application platform to start delivering workflow-enabled device-independent mobile apps that automate the collection and analysis of regulatory compliance data within our business.
The team delivered a series of analytical solutions using the telemetry data that the port collects via sensors installed on straddles and cranes. The team has also started developing port digital twins in order to achieve a complete real-time digital footprint of their facilities.
He says they are now using sensor data from their straddle carriers to improve the visibility of real-time straddle operations.
“We see this as just the beginning of our digital twin journey.”
Introducing these innovations is key to empowering the business with self-service analytics, he says.
They gain better visibility of port operations, improve operational efficiency, minimise operational downtime, and reduce costs. The ultimate goal, he says, is to support the implementation of container terminal automation.
Dealing with the challenges of automation means everything from IT architectures, to organisation structures, governance and ways of working, required significant transformation, he says.
“To this end, I have led the efforts of standing up a new operations technology environment, restructured the ICT function, and introduced new governance processes – all supported by a wonderful team of ICT professionals.”
He also established an information and analytics team which is driving their self-service information analytics (SIA) programme.
The SIA programme delivers a series of analytical solutions that not only enable business teams to achieve self-service analytics but also drive decisions on business process/service improvements.
It also provides the organisation with platform-independent apps, and uses mobile devices to perform various inspections satisfying regulatory and compliance requirements.
“This approach, complemented by intelligent chatbot services, underpins our strategy to deliver better user experience around information sharing,” says Naish.
“The challenge we are facing with automation is managing the automation implementation while maintaining a working port,” he says.
“Usually it is implemented on a greenfield site. This challenges us to innovate, leveraging the latest technologies to introduce solutions that empower our business to work smarter. We have therefore flavoured our innovations to support automation.”
Naish says this is the first time the ports had such a focus on delivering digital services.
We introduced new project delivery methods to ICT and put more effort into enabling the business to effectively exploit the solutions being delivered, he states.
Thus far they have delivered, a series of analytics and machine learning initiatives, such as truck tracking analysis, vehicle hub capacity monitoring/forecasting, container yard capacity analysis/forecasting, and accounts receivable analysis/forecasting, among others.
These projects enhance situational awareness and helped reduce costs.
For instance, the analytical model for detecting fuel consumption anomalies for straddle carriers has led to savings per annum of $15,000 to $20,000 per problematic straddle.
The mobile apps are also improving business practices, from how they evaluate process capacity and complexity for all core business functions, to how they facilitate the investigation on straddle carrier alarms.
He says other apps specifically improve business compliance, including the inspection of bulk cargo handling operations, the availability of emergency response equipment, health safety and environmental performance of contractors, and biosecurity controls required by the Ministry for Primary Industries.
Driving agile transformation
Naish says they needed to introduce agile project management if they are to deliver to the organisation’s expectations.
He says many of the initiatives he cited were delivered either through Scrum or Kanban incorporating an evolutionary prototyping approach.
“These were new ways of working for us and has become the standard means of delivering projects suiting this form of delivery,” he states.
Their shift to the new delivery model began when Naish reviewed the ICT operating model and set clear objectives for the technology team.
The resulting organisation changes, including implementing the information and analytics team, is a manifestation of these objectives.
“With limited resources, we needed to find a way to effectively leverage and upskill our existing workforce to exploit our new information assets. This didn’t only mean serving it up to the user community but to also encouraging the business to self-serve.”
To do this, they implemented the Insights Community of Excellence.
They want to mitigate the risks of forming silos of analytical capability and to maximise the value of their distributed analytics resourcing model.
“We do this encouraging shared learnings and best practices amongst users,” says Naish. “This is still in its early stages but will continue to build momentum over time.”
Becoming a trusted advisor
Naish says it is important for the CIO to become the ‘trusted advisor’ in the organisation.
“Ideally, this means rather than finding ways to bypass IT, people instead beat a path to your door,” he says.
Gaining this trust starts with ensuring ICT has comprehensive, robust strategies that support the strategic priorities of the business.
This gives confidence to the wider organisation that ICT has a solid approach to partnering with it, he says.
At POAL, the roadmap of the ICT strategy is prioritised by POAL’s Executive, thereby ensuring collective ownership of ICT priorities over a rolling five-year period.
They couple this with proactively reporting ICT’s execution against the roadmap. “This provides evidence that we’re delivering on our commitments, in turn contributing to building trust.”
Naish regularly briefs the executive team and the board on matters relating to data, analytics, emerging technology trends and cybersecurity.
He also holds regular one-on-one meetings with executives.
It is important to develop strong relationships at an individual level, he says. “These relationships have to be strong enough to ensure robust debate so those sometimes difficult conversations can be had without incurring long-term negative consequences.”
POAL has regular Friday afternoon executive update meetings which are open to the entire organisation. These meetings are often used to showcase various ICT initiatives such as their recent work in the analytics space.
“We’re also continually maturing our governance practices which gives the team exposure to what good looks like, and what works and what doesn’t,” he says.
“For example, I’ve put a lot of focus in the area of strategy and planning. Additionally we have either reviewed, or are in the midst of reviewing, our IT design and delivery, and IT operations processes.
“My team is collaboratively working together to increase our maturity in all these areas which we’ll continue to operate and evolve.”
“I like to highlight to my team that taking part in a transformation the likes that POAL is going through is a great opportunity to learn through experience.”
“While certainly presenting many challenges, experience is the best teacher,” says Naish. “I believe our transformation programme is unique and should therefore be embraced as part of their development as ICT professionals.”
He says his biggest lesson as a CIO is to recognise the value of the “softer, more intangible aspects of the role”.
He says he ensures the team get support and mentoring, while removing “removing roadblocks” that may impede their work.
“I can’t overstate the importance of this,” says Naish. “All the value in planning and strategy won’t be realised unless you have a team performing at their best.
“I’ve learned this is where a large chunk of my time needs to be spent as there is real worth in them and they are key components to achieving success.”