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South Carolina Ports creates a step-change in customer collaboration by digitizing berth planning with Portchain

In July 2021, South Carolina Ports and Portchain started an ambitious collaboration to digitize berth planning. Now, about a year later, it is time to reflect on the remarkable journey, lessons learned and impact of connecting more than 700 users to real-time, detailed scheduling information across South Carolina Ports.

Digitization starts with a vision – not with a business case

SC Ports is a top 10 US container port known for its efficiently run terminals and customer-focused operations. SC Ports owns and operates 3 dedicated container terminals and has reported 14 consecutive months of record cargo volumes at the Port of Charleston. SC Ports has a clear strategy to offer superior service and ease of doing business to customers and the broader maritime community.

The foresight to invest in infrastructure and technology is critical to accommodate strong growth and meet supply chain needs. SC Ports has the vision to digitize scheduling information as an important enabler to ensure efficient operations and to keep pace with customer needs. To deliver on this vision, SC Ports and Portchain, a provider SC Port replaced its existing in-house planning solution with Portchain Quay to fully digitize its berth planning at all 3 container terminals. Portchain Quay is quick to configure and easy to learn, so technically it would have been possible to deploy Portchain Quay across all terminals within 6 weeks. However, change management is an important success factor, so the team decided for an alternative approach: quick implementation to build trust and gradual transformation to allow time to change.

Portchain Quay was first deployed at the newly opened Hugh K. Leatherman Terminal (HLT). Within 6 weeks it was fully operational and connected to the new Portchain is a collaborative partner working closely with customers to maximize added value and incorporate feedback. A small, yet essential, change was to adapt

Portchain Quay for the US market: ensuring berth planning is available in feet and bollards. A more substantial change was to adjust the visualization of labor shifts to represent the US shift structure, e.g. berth planners can now align port calls with the 06:00 am or 07:00 am shift start. of Artificial Intelligence solutions to optimize quayside operations for container terminals and carriers, announced a strategic collaboration to digitize berth planning and collaboration in July 2021.

Although there is significant value from digitization, the first step is to unlock these opportunities by digitally sharing scheduling information in real-time with all stakeholders.

“We aim to create transparency and efficiencies across the supply chain so that each stakeholder can optimize their own processes”.

Barbara Melvin (COO of SC Ports)

Key Success Factor: quick implementation – gradual transformation

SC Port replaced its existing in-house planning solution with Portchain Quay to fully digitize its berth planning at all 3 container terminals. Portchain Quay is quick to configure and easy to learn, so technically it would have been possible to deploy Portchain Quay across all terminals within 6 weeks. However, change management is an important success factor, so the team decided for an alternative approach: quick implementation to build trust and gradual transformation to allow time to change.

Portchain Quay was first deployed at the newly opened Hugh K. Leatherman Terminal (HLT). Within 6 weeks it was fully operational and connected to the new Terminal Operating System (TOS). The quick and smooth implementation of Portchain Quay created buy-in from all stakeholders and allowed users to adapt to new ways of sharing scheduling information. Instead of receiving a daily email with the basic berthing schedule for the next 2 days, users now have access to real-time, up-to-date scheduling information at any time using their personal Portchain account. Although the number of port calls and volumes at HLT were still ramping up, it already prepared users for the new way of working. Furthermore, it allowed the berthing team to finetune the new digital planning process to enable more accurate and reliable berth scheduling.

Go-Live of Portchain Quay was smooth and business as usual – exactly as it should be

After HLT, Portchain Quay was quickly configured for North Charleston Terminal (NCT) and Wando Welch Terminal (WWT). Close collaboration and support from Portchain’s customer team focused on the change management process. Portchain Quay has an intuitive interface and raining is straightforward, so for external users a short 30 minutes session was sufficient to explain the background and introduce the new way of working. The Go-Lives at NCT and WWT, based on the learnings from HLT, were smooth and seamless despite the higher number of port calls and greater complexity. Essentially, Go-Lives were
“non-events” without any business interruptions. Barbara Melvin (COO of SC Ports):

“This Go-Live with Portchain was incredibly smooth with business as usual, and that is exactly as it should be”.

Barbara Melvin (COO of SC Ports)

Small changes – big impact

Portchain is a collaborative partner working closely with customers to maximize added value and incorporate feedback. A small, yet essential, change was to adapt Portchain Quay for the US market: ensuring berth planning is available in feet and bollards. A more substantial change was to adjust the visualization of labor shifts to represent the US shift structure, e.g. berth planners can now align port calls with the 06:00 am or 07:00 am shift start. of Artificial Intelligence solutions to optimize quayside operations for container terminals and carriers, announced a strategic collaboration to digitize berth planning and collaboration in July 2021.

Multiple small changes and improvements made during the year created a big impact for users, such as tidal information and move count predictions based on artificial intelligence to allow berth planners to make a more robust berth schedule. Portchain also enhanced the integration to the Terminal Operating System to automatically detect port call omissions and enabled the automatic export of the berthing schedule to SC Ports.

Recently, Portchain also integrated vessel position information and predictions of the Expected Time of Arrival (ETA) into Portchain Quay. All users can now see the actual position of vessels in the lineup on a map and see if the scheduled arrival time is realistic.

Step change in communication: digital and real-time

The digital, real-time sharing of berthing information creates a distinctive customer experience and customers are extremely positive about this change. Port captains from the main shipping lines appreciate the real-time information as well as the clear, graphical user interface and usually have one screen open all day with Portchain Quay and the graphical lineup of all vessels in the coming days. One port captain commented that she used to contact the berthing office several times a day to align the latest berth schedule. Nowadays, she rarely contacts them unless there are significant issues to discuss as all up-to-date information is readily available online. Similarly, Portchain Quay aligns all departments internally across SC Ports, e.g. the engineering department can see if cranes are available for maintenance.

Portchain Quay makes scheduling information digitally accessible anytime, anywhere. The berth planning team can quickly respond to new information and evaluate different scenarios to select the optimal berthing schedule. Frequent updates made each day, such as adjusting the ETA or updating the number of moves of the port call, are instantly visible for all users.

Transparency: expect the unexpected

SC Ports is clear in their ambition to create transparency and provide additional scheduling information such as detailed berth position, planned number of moves and the specific cranes assigned to load and discharge the vessel.

More than 700 users from 36 companies have their own account for Portchain Quay ranging from beneficial cargo owners (BCO’s), port captains, agents, shipping lines, pilots, harbor police as well as all departments within SC Ports.

It clearly allows each user to optimize their own workflow and processes.

Port captains use the information to check if the information regarding their own vessel is correct, keep an eye on the vessel lineup in the coming days, monitor potential congestion and assess if there are any risks of delays. They share this information with their stakeholders such as shipping line regional operations to discuss optimizations internally. For instance, they might decide to keep the allotted berth window but use it for a different vessel or ultimately even switch the port rotation and direct a vessel first to a neighboring port that has available berth capacity to avoid waiting times.

Clear impact: “easier to keep our coastal schedules up to date”

A recent survey to evaluate the deployment of Portchain Quay confirms the positive feedback and impact. All users are positive about the new berth planning process and welcome the real-time sharing of scheduling information. 89% of users agreed that communication and collaboration has improved and that the berthing schedule is more reliable. The berthing office can quickly update and evaluate different scenarios to have a more detailed and realistic berthing plan, so that they can focus on more value adding and customer focused tasks. Customers appreciate the additional information shared in real time to align port calls. Many users highlight significant time savings and decluttering emails, phone calls and messaging. Many users (80%) found that they could better plan their activities based on the improved berthing plan, or as one user commented:

[there is] “more information provided than previous platforms […] which makes it easier to keep our coastal schedules up to date”.

Way forward: even more integration, digitization and intelligence

Portchain is further developing the ETA predictions and intelligence based on vessel position information in close collaboration with its customers in Portchain Quay. Initial feedback is very promising and more realistic ETA predictions could assist SC Ports to decide on cargo opening windows, optimize vessels queues based on independent information, and monitor congestion and waiting times at neighboring ports. As the first step, Portchain just released the earliest Berth ETA prediction for port calls based on the remaining port stays (from schedule data) and remaining sailing time (based on known container routes).

Portchain is already connected to the Terminal Operating System (TOS) at HLT, NCT and WWT. Going forward, SC Ports and Portchain are looking to further streamline and digitize communication using Portchain Connect. Whereas Portchain Quay is focused on optimizing berth planning at container terminals, Portchain Connect is a digital platform to align vessel schedules between terminals and shipping lines and create a ‘digital handshake’ on schedule updates.

SC Ports created a distinct customer experience in less than one year

SC Ports delivered on their mission to deliver cost-effective solutions based on the latest cloud technology to drive transparency and create a distinct customer experience. Customers recognize the ‘ease of doing business’ and welcome the additional information available to them. SC Ports have created a broader maritime community with more than 700 connected users with real-time access to berth scheduling information. It is a first but significant step to digitize berth planning information and a major improvement in transparency and customer service.


About Portchain

Portchain is a Copenhagen-based tech company founded by 3 former McKinsey Project Managers. Portchain has taken in more than $8M in funding and is backed by former Shipping Executives. Portchain has a diverse team with many different nationalities and backgrounds. Amongst Portchain’s team are a Ph.D. in Mathematical Optimization, a Master of Physics, and a Master of Political Science.

Portchain’s vision as a company is to align port call operations to target the significant operational waste that occurs for container carriers and terminals. In accordance, the cloud-based software offerings deploy Artificial Intelligence to support terminal and carrier planning operations.


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