Port Technology: Upgrading Legacy Systems in Ports and Terminals

Press Review

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This article was published in Edition 99 of Port Technology in 2020.


Due to issues such as demands stemming from increasingly advanced technologies, the “growing” impact of increased vessel sizes and attendant container loads, a lack of physical space to store containers, and a desire to simplify complex IT landscapes, many terminals are looking to advance beyond legacy systems and streamline their processes. However, in our conservative industry, many roadblocks are standing in the way of meaningful progress when upgrading from legacy systems. These range from the practical IT challenges to the more human challenges that come.

This paper will outline the roadblocks and challenges concerning upgrading from legacy systems and then present a how-to guide for overcoming these issues. In order to ground the piece in real-life operations, we have leaned on several key global figures from across the industry for their insights. But first, let us briefly outline why it is necessary to advance beyond legacy systems, as this aids in framing the roadblocks and challenges to be explored later.


Legacy systems were developed when ports and terminals were largely manually oper-ated. Given the transition from manual to semi- and fully-automated operations, many terminals are actively pursuing or strongly considering upgrading their IT systems to provide them a path towards streamlined practices that can:

  • Mitigate the impact of increased vessel sizes and attendant container volumes
  • Facilitate Automation
  • Offer “lighter infrastructure” opportunities
  • Simplify the complexity of managing disparate Systems
  • Remove costly and cumbersome elements of the wider supply chain.

Further still, upgrading systems offers another option for ports to increase capacity. Rather than building new infrastructure, which is a highly expensive and very difficult proposition for the modern port in a heavily built-up conurbation, upgrading systems offer the potential to meet their growth requirements in an IT-based process. This option has been undertaken by the Port of Hamburg, which aims to double capacity, but not space, by 2025. INFORM’s add-on AI and optimization software modules in Hamburg play a significant role in projects where the aim is to increase capacity without adding new physical infrastructure.


Despite the port sector having the reputation for being conservative, the legacy of legacy systems – if you don’t mind the wordplay – is still a substantial factor in businesses globally both in and outside of the port sector, with up to 85-90% of Fortune 500 companies still utilizing legacy systems in some capacity.

While the situation is the same in the maritime sector, with the present situation described by Inna Kuznetsova, CEO at 1010data, as “on the tipping point” of moving on from legacy systems, there are ongoing initiatives to upgrade systems. These include the Port of Hamburg plan, as well as the Port of Valencia that is testing “black boxes” which are installed on 200 pieces of port equipment. Each black box collects information on equipment location, status, and energy consumption for use in real-time planning. The Port of Singapore is also testing a similar GPS-based traffic-monitoring system that tracks truck movements and notifies terminals when vehicles are approaching key facilities.

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