By Andy Ashwell, Group Information Officer, ISS
Since 1847, Inchcape Shipping Services has provided the expertise and local knowledge to deliver port calls that enable vessel operators, charterers and managers to ship smoothly and trade successfully around the world. Getting a product from point A to point B often means contending with dozens of sets of local regulations and environmental standards, hundreds of crew members and constantly varying port and warehouse environments. Beyond all of these day-to-day factors, global disruptions like the COVID-19 pandemic and, more recently, the 6-day blockage of the Suez Canal constantly remind us that new logistical challenges can show up at any time. Amid such changes in the industry, our team at Inchcape Shipping Services sought out digital solutions to plan and execute global port calls more efficiently.
Historically, we used a patchwork of digital tools to execute global port calls, but these legacy systems severely hampered the process. Collecting information and verification meant emailing excel templates between global teams, local port agents and port-based service providers. Excel and email often resulted in delays, and without a standardized web portal, this approach to data collection and verification made the process impossible to measure accurately. In order to manage this complex process and create a custom solution, we looked to OutSystems modern application development platform to develop a modern web portal in-house.
Here’s how we made the jump to retire our legacy systems and introduce a new, more streamlined operating system:
Shutting down old infrastructure takes a lot of coordination, especially when it requires transferring all customers (including our two largest customers, accounting for over 1,000 port calls every month) onto a new operating system. In our case, port visit cost predictions known as BaseLine Templates, or “BLTs,” were also dependent on data stored in the legacy system. We needed a new way to manage BLTs, and needed it within six months.
OutSystems worked with our system integration team at Hexaware Technologies to co-deliver a solution, ensuring our team could deliver future enhancements and maintenance. The project kicked off with a two-week initiation phase to deliver persona definitions, user stories, backlog prioritization, project architecture design and an initial project plan. At the same time, a UI template was created to ensure that the user experience for the BLT system would be consistent with the new operating system.
Since the time this project would typically take with traditional coding was dramatically reduced, the team was able to implement additional features including dashboards, UX enhancements, and other user productivity improvements. Visual development also improved the collaboration between developers and business teams, and new business-critical requirements were identified.
Now, our process is totally digital and measurable, and users receive workflow alerts from the portal for any tasks they need to perform. BLTs are populated from enterprise master data, and data collection and verification all occur via the portal. With everything centralized, it’s much easier to ensure quick turnaround of cost estimates and compare estimated port call costs to actual costs — a critical contributor to the transparency and trust that’s so valuable to our customers. The process is easier for everyone involved, and we can provide faster and more accurate cost estimates for our most important clients.
Ultimately, this step toward digital transformation was smooth, efficient, and far less daunting than one might think. By using the right tools and platforms, we managed to streamline even the most complex, interconnected factors of the shipping industry. With the ever-increasing complexity of the logistics industry, I’d encourage others to seek out modern application platforms to create innovative, customized software and modernize legacy systems. As global disruptions become more frequent, quality solutions, regardless of how they’re coded, are the only path forward.
Sea News Feature, June 10