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Companies that are moving cargo through the Canadian gateway of Halifax can now check via the port’s website how containers pass through the terminals.

The port authority displays real-time turnaround times at its two container facilities, South End Terminal and Fairview Cove Terminal.

“We were working with the terminals and our rail provider, CN. Gathering the information and putting it live on the web was a big step for us,” said Lane Farguson, the port’s communication adviser.

This is part of a drive by the port authority to achieve greater transparency on shipments and performance on its patch.

Since February, its website has harboured information about the percentage of containers that leave the port within three or four days – the declared objective is to eliminate dwell times of more than four days.

The port aims to get 90% of containers off the dock within three days and 100% in four days.

According to Mr Farguson, this metric provides better insight than displaying average dwell times of containers at terminals.

“It’s a little bit more specific. With four days average, your actual dwell time could be 2-8 days,” he said.

Last year, Halifax registered average container dwell times of 2.1 days in the first six months and 1.8 days in the second half.

The display of real-time performance data helps to step up visibility and accountability, Mr Farguson said, adding that it also had practical benefits.

“A user can look at the live data and schedule a pick-up, and he can see if there is congestion,” he said.

Under the ‘Port Operations Centre’ tab on the website, the port offers a variety of information, including current and mean wait times at gates, KPIs and a transit time calculator, as well as more common elements like schedules, tariffs and a directory of service providers.

Users can also follow a container’s progress by e-mail. After entering a container number, they can sign up to receive automatic alerts every time the box passes a milestone, such as discharge, loading onto rail, departure from the port and arrival at destination.

And the next instalment for the website is in the works.

The port has been working on a module that will indicate vessel reliability, measuring actual arrival times against schedules. According to Mr Lane, this should go live within the coming weeks.

Further down the road, the port authority want to develop algorithms that can predict a container’s passage through the terminal. However, there is no indication when this is likely to come onstream or what metrics it will use.

The overarching objective of these initiatives, says the port, is the creation of a single place where users can find performance and status information. Besides assisting them in their planning, the data can also be used to develop measures to improve performance.

The digitisation of the port aims beyond performance metrics.

“Our goal is to transform the Halifax Port Authority into a digital organisation that can handle the most recent industry changes with flexibility, agility and resilience, said Karen Oldfield, president and CEO of the port authority, recently.

Mr Farguson explained: “The entire supply chain is moving towards digitising data and making it more efficient. We are taking steps to make sure we are part of that.”

In time this drive toward digitisation could extend beyond visibility. A number of airports have taken steps to establish platforms that can serve as conduits for exchange of data between the players in supply chains.

The port authority’s latest move should go some way towards data exchange and transactions. It announced on August 9 that it would participate in TradeLens, a blockchain-focused global trade digitisation solution borne out of the collaboration of Maersk and IBM on blockchain technology. This aims to develop a secure digital ledger system to bring together shipping and trade partners including ports and terminals, shippers and forwarders.

“Just think of what can be accomplished when we combine our local knowledge with global expertise provided through the Maersk-IBM collaboration agreement,” said Ms Oldfield.

Halifax has suffered some congestion problems this year at its Fairview Cove container terminal.

After a record throughput of 559,242 teu last year (up 16% over its 2016 volume), the port clocked up 275,839 teu in the first six months of this year, an increase of 0.7% on the first half of 2017.