PortLink, one of the leading providers of Port Management Information Systems, stated that rapid advancements in smart-port technology and the availability of large amounts of data are providing new and exciting opportunities to make a positive impact on port operations.

When the overall state of technology today is considered, we seem to be inundated by the term “smart.” We have smart phones, smart watches, smart cars, smart homes, smart cities and of course, we have smart ports. A “smart” port has been defined as a port that leverages innovation and automation technology to digitize operations and enhance the overall efficiency. Seems simple enough, but can ports of all sizes leverage smart-port technology and digitize operations? According to Kris English, Chief Innovation Officer at PortLink, the answer is “Yes, but each port will have their own version of “smart” and the digitization process will be different based on a port’s unique driving factors. These driving factors may include competition from surrounding ports, pressure from stakeholders, the desire to become more competitive or even the ambition of expanding their business without adding new infrastructure. Our Port Management Information System has been used to digitize a wide range of port operations for large and small ports alike.”

Kris English (center) with his clients from the Port of A çu, Brazil.

While PortLink’s solutions are currently in use by some of the world’s biggest and busiest ports, English said that “we really enjoy what we do here at PortLink and are just as proud to deliver a smart-port solution that assists a port who has a handful of ships each month as we are were to deliver our solution for a port that handles hundreds of movements every day.”

PortLink’s Port Management Information System (PMIS) sits under the company’s “SMART Port Solution Portfolio” alongside their Vessel Traffic Management Information System (VTMIS), Port Community System (PCS), Pilot/Tug Dispatch System and Marine Operations System. The PMIS is a modular solution that supports the administrative and financial processing for all aspects of port calls and provides the digitization platform for a wide range of marine and shore-based operations. The Association of Pacific Ports spoke with PortLink, one of our Associate Members, to discuss how their PMIS fits into the concept of “smart-port technology” and how APP Port Members can leverage such a system for their own digitization strategies.

APP: Can you start by introducing yourself and PortLink?

KE: Sure, my name is Kris English, Chief Innovation Officer at PortLink. Among other things, I am responsible for maintaining an innovative approach to all aspects of our company’s operations from the work environment to our solutions.

PortLink, based in Vancouver, Canada, and is a marine-centric, experienced solution provider who has been developing, delivering, and supporting customized solutions for the marine industry since 2007. We provide mission-proven, scalable solutions which are both innovative and user-friendly. At the core of PortLink is a team of skilled and experienced software engineers and project staff who have successfully delivered solutions of all levels of scope, size, and complexity.

With over 3,000 active users and a global presence, PortLink is large enough and has the experience to deliver projects of all sizes and complexity yet, is small enough to care about our customers specific requirements.

One more quick point which is an important one to us at PortLink, we are not the type of company that will come in and tell you “this is our product, this is how it works, and you will need to adapt your workflows/processes to our system.” Instead, we do the complete opposite. We come to you (or meet virtually now with COVID travel restrictions) and spend the first few days understanding all aspects of your operations. We ask a lot of questions and in the end, we have a very clear understanding of your operations, where you are at, where you want to be, and we create the roadmap to bridge this gap. Our team then customizes our solution to meet your requirements, workflows, and processes until you are ultimately happy with the end result. Working in partnership with our customers has really helped PortLink and our customers achieve the best possible success.

APP: Can you explain PMIS, how it fits into the “smart-port technology” concept and its adability for ports of all sizes?

KE: PMIS stands for Port Management Information System and is a comprehensive, modular solution designed to facilitate the planning and management of port operations. The PMIS is a smart-port solution that is used as the intelligence platform for connecting technologies, digitizing operations, and automating workflows, resulting in increased efficiency, improved performance, and enhanced economic competitiveness. The PMIS is 100-percent modular and can easily be adapted for ports of all sizes but in reality, we don’t necessarily look at the size of the port — it is more about the operations, the vision of the port, and how the solution can be used to maximize operations. Since the solution is modular, our customers can start with the most basic functionality such as vessel scheduling and have the ability to evolve into a comprehensive solution including resource dispatching, cargo management, billing, mobile apps, a Port Community System (PCS) and much more.

APP: How does PortLink’s solutions differ from other systems on the market and why would a port choose to work with PortLink?

KE: We believe there are a few key differences that have contributed to ports and other organizations choosing PortLink. The first differentiator is the modern, intuitive design. PortLink’s PMIS was designed with direct input and feedback from ports, marine pilots, marine agents, terminals and other professionals in the marine industry. The concept was to have a modern solution based on the latest technology that is flexible, customizable, and has a user-interface with a usability that is second to none. The user-friendly design is critical as we have systems deployed with over 750 users having a wide range of computer skills.

The second unique selling point is the solutions interoperability with existing and future systems. Our largest deployment interfaces with over 35 third-party systems integrating the data from each of these systems into the PMIS for advanced predictions, resource utilization, ETA/ETD predictions and much more. An example of interoperability and integration is PortLink’s ability to integrate with Terminal Operating Systems (TOS) such as NAVIS. With this integration, the PMIS can extract the berth plan from terminals’ TOS to speed up vessel booking requests. Another example is the PMIS ability to interface with Just-in-Time systems (for example, NaviPort from Wärtsilä) providing the relevant tools to assist in generating the requested time of arrival.

One very interesting and unique example of PortLink’s PMIS is the integration of weather forecasting services and running the port’s vessel schedule against the weather forecast to ensure that safe manoeuvring can be achieved in weather dependent operations. Other interoperability points include risk management systems (for example, HAZMAN from Marico Marine), Fleet Management Systems (for example, HELM Connect), Financial Systems (for example, Oracle, SAP, JD Edwards, etc.), Video Surveillance Systems, Card Access Systems, Gate Automation Systems and much, much more. With each project we conduct blueprinting sessions to look at what systems are currently in place and discuss how they can be leveraged to enhance the solution we are delivering.

Another key point for PortLink’s PMIS is that it is future proof. We believe it is important for ports to consider their short, medium, and long-term smart-port strategy when looking for solution providers. A critical point to consider is if the solution is future proof. If a port is going to invest their time, effort, and money into a solution, they need to know that the solution can adapt to advancements in technology and that the solution provider is focused on continual development. PortLink’s solution is on the cutting edge of technology and has already introduced and deployed systems utilizing Big Data, IoT, Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

One point that we believe truly differentiates PortLink from other providers is our ability and willingness to customize our solution and/or provide custom development for solutions regardless of the size of a port. It goes back to the saying — once you have seen one port, you have seen ONE port. No two ports are the same and we have the experience and skilled team that can take requirements and turn them into a customized set of software features.

PortLink also has advantages from a commercial perspective. We understand there is a traditional view that PMIS solutions are very expensive to implement and yes, they can be but, we believe that smart solutions should be available to ports of all sizes and therefore, have designed our solution to have granular modules which can be adapted to all types and sizes of operations as well as levels of complexity.

The last point that I would like to add is that ever since the initiation of PortLink in 2007, we have understood that having a great system is only one-half of the solution. The other half, which is equally important, is the project team — their experience, expertise, and ability to communicate clearly. The team at PortLink has been involved in maritime projects of all sizes with varying levels of complexity. We do not simply consider ourselves a system provider — we work in partnership with ports, maritime agencies, and stakeholders to provide business-process consulting to deliver customized solutions designed around the existing needs and vision of our customers.

APP: If one of our members was interested in smart-port technology or systems, what would you recommend they do?

KE: Good question, and this could be a subject for an entire article. The fact is, there are a lot of good systems currently available that fall under the “smart-port technology” category however, each port is unique and there no “one-size-fits-all” solution. The best place to start is with a review of their operations and coming up with a list of areas that could be addressed with smart-port technology and/or systems. As an example, are you reliant on manual systems based on excel spreadsheets and communication exchanges via emails or phone calls? Do you manually collect and produce reports or KPIs? Are you doing any redundant data entry? If the answer is yes, then there is a good chance you can benefit from smart-port technology and/or systems. If any of your members would like some assistance understanding what is currently available, discuss what other ports have done, or have a general discussion about their digital strategy, we are happy to help.

For more information, visit www.portlink.co or contact Kris directly at kris.english@portlink.co (or by phone: 604-353-3640).