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Implementing a Terminal Operating System: Learnings & Considerations

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At some point during its evolution, every growing business faces the decision of when the time is right to replace Microsoft Excel or other highly manual tools with a consolidated Terminal Operating System (TOS). Once you have decided the time is now and you have determined to select and implement a TOS, now what? While some business owners have been a part of larger organizations and seen implementations in the past, for most this is a new endeavor.

Most implementation best practices you read about relate to any size organization. However, the importance and prioritization may vary from organization to organization. For those port and terminal operators heading into your first TOS transformation, we have outlined a list of considerations to help you navigate:

Don’t overlook a proper software evaluation

It is likely the case you are hoping to utilize software “best-practices” with your new TOS but remember that software cannot do what it is not programmed to do. What this means is that if you have a process that differentiates your business from the competition, you are planning to keep an existing platform that needs to be integrated or you are planning on potentially changing your product or service offering in the future you will need to make sure your selected software will work.

When we first talk to customers heading into their first TOS, we often hear they have only talked to a software company that one of the leaders has worked with. While this might work out eventually, it is important to realize that there are TOS vendors that provide better and more cost-effective solutions for your situation.

Additionally, what many operators find after the fact is that they did not do their homework on surrounding costs, such as advanced modules, hosting, necessary bolt-on products, integration, and on-going maintenance costs. Just do your homework before signing on.

There is no need to rush

While you may be eager to get through this endeavor, rushing a TOS implementation rarely has good results. Especially as this is your first rodeo, make sure that your questions are answered, and you have confidence in your approach before proceeding. Your business cannot afford a significant impact on operations.

Make sure you keep ownership of your project

Software vendors may be stating that they have your back and can carry you through implementation, but make sure that you remain in control of the process. A stated above, if you are feeling rushed, you are unsure of what is being done, or sensing unusual stress to your business or clients, you need to share this concern and make sure the approach is managed to your satisfaction.

There are three things to keep in mind as you work with your TOS supplier:

  • Some suppliers want you to succeed but still put their interests above yours. The quicker they can get you “implemented” and on service contract the better (for them).
  • Understand the timeline and implications of things like cutover planning, understand if operations will need to be shut down and how this may impact business or financial cycles.
  • If you do not have a proper level of ownership during the implementation, you risk becoming over-dependent on your supplier. This can get very expensive in the long run.

Understand and document your current state before starting

This is a no-brainer for larger organizations, but we find many times that small businesses may overlook an understanding of the current state before bringing in a new system. This includes both processes and systems. Most small businesses have acquired numerous (predominantly manual) systems for things like tallying, stock management, billing, delivery orders, manifesting, or other business needs.

Be sure that your supplier has a list of existing modules and functionality BEFORE you sign for your software and implementation services. This will ensure that you are clear on which modules will be incorporated into your TOS as well as the estimated cost and complexity of needed integrations.

Also, as you document your current state, be certain that you are uncovering existing workarounds and custom spreadsheets that your employees have been utilizing otherwise, you may find these popping back up once the TOS is implemented.

Do not overlook Organizational Change Management

Many small to medium-sized port and terminal operators assume that organizational change management (OCM) is only needed for larger organizations with hundreds or thousands of employees. They could not be more wrong. The approach for OCM may be very different for a small business, but it absolutely needs to be addressed.

Consider with only a handful of employees the importance that each employee has in the success of the organization. If even one person is distracted or resistant to the change, this could have a significant impact on the implementation.

Here are a few points to start thinking about the concept of change management:

  • Do people know why they are being asked to change? Communication is critical.
  • Consider that not all resistance intentional, meaning that people don’t always understand how they feel about change.
  • Don’t skimp on training or you will pay for it later.
  • Keep communications, training, and responsibilities simple. People may get stressed managing a growing business, and the introduction of a TOS implementation will more than likely cause additional stress.

Implementation will allow you to uncover “hidden gems”

A TOS implementation will bring out some unexpected or quiet leaders in your company. Some people will step up and act and leaders will be created. Let this happen. You may also find that some people you thought were leaders simply are not.

The most valuable people in your implementation will set their self-interests aside and see the bigger picture. They are the people who understand finances and the flow of operations, those who work well in a team environment and are respected by others.

Please contact us at connect@logstarerp.com to brainstorm ideas and present our LogStar TOS solution that we’ve seen work for many other ports and terminals. We are happy to be a sounding board as you continue your TOS transformation journey!

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