Northport builds e-com infrastructure to exploit biz opportunities

by Elaine Ee, ITAsia.Whether they know it or not, many organisations have already taken initial steps toward doing business on the Internet- firms that work EDI into their IT infrastructure have long recognised the benefits of communicating and exchanginginformation electronically.

by Elaine Ee, ITAsia. Whether they know it or not, many organisations have already taken initial steps toward doing business on the Internet - firms that work EDI into their IT infrastructure have long recognised the benefits of communicating and exchanging information electronically. Elaine Ee asks one of Malaysia's port operators how it now empowers more customers by taking EDI one step further - to the Internet.

Formed from a strategic operational alliance of two of Malaysia's largest and most established container terminal operators, -Klang Container Terminal (KCT) and Klang Port Management- Northport is the largest player in the container terminal business in Port Klang, able to package a full range of comprehensive port facilities and services to meet customer needs.

Northport's more than two kilometre quayline, offers container facilities with an annual capacity in excess of 2.5 million TEUs. A total of 22 quay cranes service the Port

AMTrix solution
KCT had started computerising its operations since the 1980s, followed not long after by deployment in 1989 of a port community/client-focused system called Client-Access. This system allowed port users to interactively and in real-time perform general enquiries pertaining to vessel and container movement within the port/terminal. EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) capability was built into the system, facilitating a move toward paperless port operations, says Suresh Kumar, Systems Manager, Klang Container Terminal.

"Initially, proprietary EDI (KCT-specific formats) was practised. Over time, UN/EDIFACT-based messages were also adopted around the 1994-1995 time frame. We then saw a need to incorporate an enterprise view for EDI message exchange as more documents were being transmitted electronically," Mr. Kumar adds.

After a short but exhaustive review, KCT standardised on the AMTrix application from Sweden's Frontec [now known as Viewlocity] in 1995.

"KCT has been, and still is, operating principally a Compaq OpenVMS/Unix-based cluster running several nodes. The cluster provides the necessary high availability and fault tolerance for the port environment," Mr. Kumar says. "The port operations management system was operated on a legacy database system, which has since been migrated to the Oracle 7/8 platform."

KCT's use of IT has allowed the terminal to handle larger volumes of containers through various forms of computer-aided optimisation (berth, ship and yard planning, etc.). It has also improved visibility of operations, allowing operations personnel and customers to track all movements of containers and perform operational service requests seamlessly and transparently.

Move toward e-commerce
KCT also saw a need to provide advanced infrastructure, in terms of systems and facilities, and a greater need to further interface and cement partnerships with its trading partners.
It knew that unless the necessary technology and e-commerce infrastructure are put in place, the terminal may be in a commercially disadvantageous position to exploit business opportunities that arise. "We position ourselves as the preferred terminal for both shippers and global carriers, and we saw the benefits of providing the facilities. We see e-commerce as the next step after EDI; e-commerce is enjoying even wider acceptance," Mr. Kumar says.

This need drove KCT to deploy in 1996 its Web site to provide partners and customers with real-time facilities. "Our interactive voice response and fax system, which was launched in 1995 to provide real-time shipment status to port users over fixed-line and mobile phones, was further supplemented when we launched our Web site in 1996. This time, we were able to provide real-time status information over the Internet," he adds.

KCT has deployed a mix of technologies for its B2B e-commerce initiatives. The AMTrix EDI server product was the initial component, and was identified as being capable of performing e-commerce type functions. Mr. Kumar says one of the first tasks KCT took on was to move its X.420 EDI messaging with EDI Malaysia from a dedicated leased circuit to over the Internet. It now performs all EDI transactions with the Port Klang Community System (PKCS), including the Free Zone Authority, via the Internet.

Says Mr. Kumar: "At around the same time, we also decided to re-architect the existing Client-Access, and decided to use Internet-based technologies as the primary infrastructure. The new system would allow easy deployment on either an intranet or extranet.

"The principal deployment tools were Oracle Application Server, using Developer 2000/Pro-C/Java. The hardware platform chosen for the deployment was Compaq Alpha server 4100. The existing Web site deploys these in empowering customers to perform real-time transactions." He adds that KCT is also exploring the use of XML (eXtensible Markup Language) as a means of messaging with its many, varied trading partners.

"For successful e-commerce deployment, the business processes within the port community must be re-engineered; that being the biggest hurdle. The technology is already available and the provisions in the law already safeguard e-commerce transactions," he says.

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