5 steps towards a Terminal Operating System

A terminal operating system helps a terminal be more efficient. This is what we have learnt from best practices and those who have embraced digitalisation as the future for rail. But, which system is the right one? And where do you start your search? This is wisdom much less taken for granted. We asked Tideworks, a US-based IT company with offices in Rotterdam and Latin America, to walk us through the first steps towards a TOS.

“Before identifying TOS providers, a terminal should first take several questions into consideration to help in their analysis. Knowing the answers to these questions, and ultimately what they are looking to achieve as a business, will help in analysing various providers”, says Sicco Bosscher, regional business development manager EMEA at Tideworks.

The company published the Intermodal TOS Decision Guide, setting out the questions companies should ask themselves, and ask the TOS provider. “From the initial project phases through implementation, we partner with our customers to find the best solution for their terminal’s needs. And our partnership doesn’t end when their terminal is live”, he says.

Step 1 – Identifying your needs

The first question a company should ask itself is what the desired business objectives and expected benefits are, the company explains. “What are you hoping to accomplish with a new TOS? It is crucial for terminal operators to identify key goals and objectives and then design metrics to track their progress. Once you have a sense of your goals, ask yourself if your current systems are up to the task. And if it is not, what is missing. What are the pain points? And are these resulting in lost customers or revenue?

“Terminal operators have continued to feel pressure to do more with less to satisfy their customer base and provide ROI to shareholders and investors. Our challenge as a technology partner is to continue finding innovative solutions that support terminal operators in increasing their efficiencies, whether it be automating processes, optimising the utilisation of costly assets, or gaining visibility into operational data that allows them to make decisions to drive positive margin growth.”

Step 2 – What do you have in place?

Once a company knows what it needs, it will need to see how this integrates with what it already has. This is explained by Tideworks as integration points: who are your integration partners and vendors?

“Put another way, what are your current systems that a TOS will exchange data with such as, OCR, EDI, PDS? And what other vendors are you speaking with in pursuit of your growth goals? How will those purchases influence your TOS needs? Getting a handle on these will help you evaluate various TOS solutions and providers.”

TOS example – Tideworks

Step 3 – Which solution to choose?

After this, it is time for a decision on which solutions to acquire. This can be a challenging task, as the available solutions are numerous, and a terminal may not need or want all of these solutions. At this point, it is time to ask what the specific functions are that you are looking for from a TOS. Which solutions will help you achieve your operational, commercial, and technical goals?

For example, Tideworks offers a TOS called Intermodal PRO. This system includes a number of modules to further extend its capabilities. “You can implement only the functionality you need, and upgrade later when your needs change or grow. We have a Traffic Control system, which provides dynamic control of container handling equipment. We offer Terminal View, a powerful component that offers 3D data visualisations of terminals in real-time. Or we can provide Tideworks Insight, a real-time data platform.”

Step 4 – What is our competition doing?

Modern TOS solutions are no longer reserved for the Class 1 rail terminals. Today, an increasing number of rail terminals are looking for technology solutions to improve performance. “It is therefore important to assess how your terminal differentiates itself. Examine the changes the competition is making to their equipment, yard, processes, and operating systems. How will these changes give your competition a competitive advantage, and what do you need to do to maintain your current market share, or even better, to grow?”

According to Bosscher, success in this regard is easily measured. “Various terminals have different success metrics they measure performance by. Some of these may be moves per hour or lifts per hour, gate transactions, etc. Simply put, efficient handling of cargo keeps customers happy and gives terminals a greater competitive advantage.”

TOS example – Tideworks

Step 5 – Are you ready for a change?

Last but not least, the company should look at itself again and ask the important question: are we ready for a change? “This may be the most important question of all. Ask yourself if you are ready to move your operation into the future. As you consider your readiness, it is also important to note the internal resources required to fully support a modern TOS and what technology may be different than what is currently at your terminal.”

Asked about the financial capacity a company needs to have, Tideworks says that it has offerings scalable to any size terminal. “We offer a subscription model, which includes TOS software usage and the maintenance and support of the TOS applications. This model avoids the heavy upfront CAPEX associated with a license model, ensures the customer will always be on the latest versions of the software, and provides a clear and known TCO”, explains Bosscher.

“Under this model, Tideworks’ philosophy is to focus on the true purpose of the software – to help the customer enhance productivity and profitability of the operation.”

Author: Majorie van Leijen

Majorie van Leijen is the editor-in-chief of RailFreight.com, the online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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