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Digitalising frontline operations at the terminal

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Picture of Meenal Datar

Meenal Datar

Membership specialist
The ISGOTT checklist displayed on a tablet

It is important to identify the needs of terminals and end-users concerning efficiency, time, costs, operations growth. Terminals differ to such extent that global companies with an extensive terminal portfolio have more challenges in creating and implementing standardised processes that complicate the adoption of low- and no-code and traditional software systems.

Each terminal might be at different stages of digitalisation. Their differences in history, maturity, culture, geography, team members, local autonomy, and local PNL will impact the global standardisation of processes. Differences in goals, purpose, limitations, safety terms applied locally, the complexity of the human side, processes, legal points will either push for faster digitalisation and standardisation or considerably slow it down.

 

LEARNINGS FROM LOW-CODE/NO-CODE SOFTWARE IMPLEMENTATION

In ten years of low-code and no-code software implementation, Smartflow has learned there are a number of important questions to ask:

  • What are terminals’ priorities?
  • How are they pursuing digital transformation?
  • What is their IT strategy going forward?
  • What are the essential technologies they need to create transformative digital businesses?

Understanding standardisation at a large scale is key in implementing a solution that uses specific frameworks that enables terminals to benefit from standardised processes. Moreover, provides them with the flexibility to comply with local regulations and needs. A centralised data model with global and terminal-specific content might be the solution framework you are looking for.

To pave the road for global standardisation, there are several steps to be done such as understanding the content that terminals need, the interpretation of data locally, offering the flexibility for each terminal to add their own data, giving them the freedom to run their processes as they are obliged to.

 

TYPICAL SCENARIOS

A vessel goes to a terminal. Terminals have a different setup for how they charge or discharge the product. Each vessel has to go through the International Safety Guide for Oil Tankers and Terminals (ISGOTT) processes, but each terminal’s ship/shore documentation can vary. The operational arrangements or load/discharge plans will have specific checks not applicable for every situation.

In a truck handling process, the same applies. The location of the weighbridge influences the process, not to mention the agreements that the customer service of local terminals have made with their customers regarding the additional tasks operators are to perform.

How transferable is this knowledge? Is it properly stored for future reference or training? Can new employees be quickly onboarded?

Each terminal comes with specific demands, agreements, and necessities, but they will follow the same processes on a higher level. The solution framework that needs to be set up takes these differences into account and standardises where possible and necessary. The vision of digitalising differs, sometimes influenced by the culture. The human remains the most important keyword in technology adoption today.

A representation of a mobile checklist that allows field workers to attach pictures or videos
Figure 2 : A representation of a mobile checklist that allows field workers to attach pictures or videos

Next to these processes, there are different templates and checklists for other operational processes suitable for this global-local approach. How can these checklists be digitalised to follow the input-output model correctly? What features does the local terminal need to follow the operational processes effortlessly?

Once identified, the established framework can be inherited and adapted to local needs resulting in a clearer overview of what they can change regionally, shared by a couple of terminals, or locally specific to one terminal only. It gives them flexibility and freedom for changes and adaptations. By doing so, they can start defining the whole processes for terminals; when a task begins, what comes in between, what alternative paths there are, what could happen when it ends. However, terminals can add extra tasks and steps to digitalise the onboarding process from local requirements.

There isn’t one template that works for all companies in tank storage but aiming at the similarities and filling up the gaps ensures a faster standardisation once the bases are established, and there is proven value to begin with. Each terminal thinks about their needs and problems, digital transformation managers from global headquarters think about new ways of scaling, innovating, leveraging the collected data.

 

SETTING UP A GLOBAL FRAMEWORK BUT ALLOWING LOCAL AUTONOMY

Terminals have many sources and inputs from local and global regulations, specific customer needs, factors, and parameters that decide the nature of daily operations. Terminals want to standardise parts of a process, but not all need to follow a robust path. Software solutions have the mission to support global headquarters in creating their data model in a way that allows terminals to fill their content (tasks, checks, inspections), keeping a balance between global and local.

Smartflow can improve the whole global template as dictated by headquarters, at the same time offer extra functionality locally to allow a terminal to do something new that could not have been done before. The company’s software makes it possible for terminals to test a feature before it is deployed to all other terminals or approved for regional deployment only. The expertise of Smartflow’s connected worker solution lies in the standardisation of global demands. However, the personalisation of templates for both local and global needs has become a strong requirement in the last couple of years.

Smartflow’s low-code/no-code software solution supports digitalisation and standardisation from daily operations to complex terminal operations. It takes the pressure off IT teams frequently pushed to build business applications and automate processes. The legacy created by large companies might slow down the adoption of low-code/no-code, fearing that the framework that has been created at a global scale might get too disrupted.

‘At Oiltanking, OTSA Terminal Antwerp, we use Smartflow to digitalise the processes of our field operators. Smartflow combines and visualises only the information that is key to executing a task safely. This data is coming from our back-end systems. Examples include operator guide of our planning and truck scheduling system, digital work order instructions, and safety checklists. We also use Smartflow for shift handover.

‘Digitalising operations in an industrial environment is easier said than done. Smartflow is supporting us to face the challenges. Operators work in an ATEX environment and perform complex operations. They share best practices and advise on how to introduce technology in field operations,’ says Thomas Beyers, business system coordinator, Oiltanking Antwerp, Belgium.

 

THE CAUSES OF SLOW ADOPTION OF LOW-CODE/NO-CODE APPLICATIONS

The limited understanding of the term low-code/no-code is one of the reasons leadership teams find it difficult to embrace this technology. It remains a software company’s responsibility to educate in the simplest ways possible, emphasising that low-code/no-code is not a threat but a tool for frontline, product, and tech teams to use for their advantage and faster growth bringing IT to the business.

Customisation is a core feature energy companies look for when introducing a new software solution. Will introducing a new technology affect the customer journey experience? Smartflow products ensure that customisation and historical ways of working are not being negatively disrupted.

Regulatory compliance is on leaders’ minds. By digitalising daily operational checks, ATEX inspections, ship/shore documentation, terminals accelerate the execution and the compliance of inspections, permits, and work orders. Digital solutions maintain the highest security and quality standards, reducing operations risks and collecting real-time insights from the generated data.

Costs remain a barrier in adopting terminal optimisation solutions. Smartflow has established well-documented use cases that showcase the value of how terminals reduce time considerably, ultimately reduce costs, improve efficiency and productivity.

‘It’s easy to set up a proof of concept with the low-code/no-code software solution. This way, you will get quick results. End users can immediately give feedback on the solution. It’s the ideal way to start agile working. You don’t need extensive IT or system knowledge to work with Smartflow. A local system key user can easily make small changes in the forms. Smartflow has a professional attitude and way of working,’ says Beyers.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

Digitalisation is no longer a trend. It’s a movement to optimisation. Solving problems and creating new business opportunities is not nice to have, it’s the only path to growth and sustainability.

With Smartflow, terminals can assure business processes such as compliance, streamlined operations, risk reduction, well-utilised resources, consistency, assured quality, and end-to-end visibility are all in one place, as well as reduce duplicated, outdated, and faulty information and increase efficiency. Smartflow allows a comfortable adoption and integration of new technologies. The solution has a self-driven, highly custom automation on top of standard tools like ERP systems and gives a last-mile digitised process delivery.

With low-code/no-code a company can guarantee complete transparency within each process, offering a single source of truth, and can connect frontline workers with backup offices, IT, developers, and business operations.

 

For more information:

Stefana Sopco (stefana.sopco@smartflowapps.com) is the head of content marketing at Smartflow. Jelle Swanenberg (jelle.swanenberg@smartflowapps.com) is the COO at Smartflow. Contact Sopco, Swanenberg or sales manager Frank Van Bockel (frank.van.bockel@smartflowapps.com) to find out more.

Swanenberg will host a conference panel on this topic at StocExpo 2022, which will be held from 23-35 May 2022 in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

www.smartflowapps.com

www.stocexpo.com

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