Fremantle Ports has upgraded its reporting engine in an attempt to smooth out the conflicting schedules between raw materials arriving at the facility by rail and ships arriving at the port.
The new system, based on Cognos 10 software, has already been put to the test to make speedier decisions on the impact of natural disasters and the signing of new customers, according to a Ports executive speaking at IBM’s Business Analytics Forum in Melbourne.
The WA-Government owned enterprise has in many respects become a vital organisation to the Australian economy.
Much of the mining exports that have continued to stimulate the Australian economy throughout the global turbulence of the past five years have passed through the facility.
Fremantle Ports’ inner harbour is responsible for all container trade for Western Australia and also provides facilities for everything from motor vehicle imports, livestock exports, cruise ships and visiting Naval vessels.
The Outer Harbour facilities - in nearby Kwinana – handle the export of grain, petroleum, LPG, Alumina, mineral sands, fertilisers, coal and many other raw materials.
For several years, Fremantle Ports management had been using reports generated by the ageing Cognos 7 suite, and had skipped an upgrade to the next version due to more urgent priorities.
Collins Vuchocho, business systems consultant at Fremantle Ports, told the audience at IBM’s Business Analytics Forum that management were expressing dissatisfaction with the application and the quality of data arriving on their dashboards.
Vuchocho said several drivers pushed the company towards considering wholesale replacement of the system.
It was seen as an impediment to a scheduled SQL-based data warehouse upgrade, and users were more often than not using the software as a means of accessing data for download to Excel spreadsheets to make it more useful.
Further, many of the staff that had designed Fremantle Ports’ Cognos-based reports had since left the organisation.
“We couldn’t keep going with it any longer, but we were also fully reliant on it,” Vuchocho said. “All our revenue projections were based on it.”
The global financial crisis brought on new demands for accountability from corporate management.
“We were being forced to report a lot sooner, and asked to predict what was going to happen in the future,” Vuchocho said.
His team went to market seeking a new analytics and business intelligence platform, with some key criteria in mind.
First and foremost, they sought improved performance and reliability. On that basis alone, staff fed up with using Cognos 7 were reticent to recommend an upgrade of the platform.
“We weren’t looking at upgrading as an option,” Vuchocho said. “We actually stood back and looked at Cognos as something we didn’t have.”
The requirements demanded that the new solution be well documented.
“The labour market in Western Australia is constantly changing,” he said. “We had to make sure that whoever comes into the IT department had enough resources to land by themselves.”
Ports wanted a reporting platform that would work on mobile devices for staff working off-site, such that they could enter data directly into the system whilst out on a ship during a ship inspection, for example.
The tool also had to be intuitive from a user’s perspective. The brief stipulated a need for more visual data.
The IT team even went to the extreme of stipulating that users of the system - Fremantle Ports’ Trade and Statistical Reporting team - had to approve of any new solution.
“We gave users the power to look at it and say yes or no,” Vuchocho said.
Testing the latest products on the market, the reporting team shocked all with their choice – an upgrade to Cognos 10.
“It’s interesting - they were the ones that didn’t want Cognos because of their experience on Cognos 7 - it was poison to us!”
Vuchocho gave the audience a number of scenarios to show that the team made the right choice.
The dashboards were put to use, he said, when northern Japan was cripped by earthquakes and tsunamis some 12 months ago. Management sought reports on precisely how many cars Australia imports from Japan through the port, how many were scheduled to arrive prior to the disaster, and how many were due to arrive before the inevitable production delays made an impact further down the supply chain.
“We now have a platform with a lot more visibility. We can accurately say what country cargo is coming from, and the users can drill down into information instead of asking IT for it,” Vuchocho said.
Questions were also asked when the Costa Concordia cruise ship ran aground off Italy in mid-January. What if the same event occurred within Fremantle’s waters?
Fremantle Ports conducted disaster recovery tests to recreate such a scenario in its own waters. Again IT was asked for new reports.
“The first person to get hit is the IT department because management want all the information they can get to make a decision,” he said.
The real ROI on the Cognos upgrade came in May 2011 when Fremantle Ports signed a deal with Mineral Resources to use the Kwinana outer harbour as an export facility for iron ore.
Mineral Resources and Fremantle Ports spent $44 million on upgrading facilities at the port such that trains could deliver iron ore from MinRes’ Carina mine directly to be stockpiled at the Port and loaded onto ships for export.
Vuchocho told the audience that this new customer drove a greater need for efficiency at the port, which was already challenged by the varied cleaning, loading or unloading times associated with the many products being exported and imported.
“You have to be accurate - iron ore ships are quite big, so you have narrow tidal windows to work with,” he explained. “We were very happy about the extra revenue coming in, but the challenge of servicing that customer was more complex than we thought.
“We ran a very stringent SLA [service level agreement] – we had to turn around a ship in under 40 hours. And when you have multiple trains that are 3km or 4km long wanting to use the port – the knock on effect of any delay is so costly, we could not afford it.
“That mix of container trains, iron ore trains and ships coming in and out meant we needed a platform to analyse data quickly to make decisions in real time rather than once a week or once a month.”
The upgrade from Cognos 7 to Cognos 10 took between six to eight months. The team managed to simplify the process by consolidating the 77 reports generated from Cognos 7 down to 30, keeping the “simplest and most important” and redeveloping the remainder in Cognos 10.
But the success of the upgrade – which has seen the BI suite rolled out to far more staff – has seen the number of reports blow out to 82.
Vuchocho said the new system gives Fremantle Ports “a lot of freedom, to the point that staff want to explore more. People have been rejuvenated, they can create their own dashboards. They are asking for more than standard user training.”
Users have also sought out new modules and now the BI team is investigating use of IBM Cognos TM1 and IBM Websphere to see how its use can be extended further.
“We are looking at WebSphere for modeling, for predictive analysis around ensuring efficient handling of ships while in our harbours to better plan for landside logistics,” he said.