Genesis project transforms Port of Nelson

Genesis project transforms Port of Nelson

Parke Pittar's position of chief commercial officer at Port of Nelson cuts across the CIO, CFO and commercial secretary portfolios.

Parke Pittar has had a varied life. Though born in Te Puke, he trained in the British Merchant Navy to be a deck officer; then he worked as a shipping agent at the Port of Tauranga and later as a foreman’s stevedore. The role let him visit many ports and Wellington was a natural progression, managing the container terminal at Centreport. During his four years there, he also completed a degree and post-graduate diplomas in finance, management, international business and accounting. To broaden his skill base outside the ports industry, he spent several years at Deloitte Corporate Finance in Wellington, along with completing his professional accountancy exams.

But ports beckoned once more and in 2004 Pittar arrived at Port of Nelson as its chief commercial officer, a role that combines CIO, CFO, company secretary and managing property, negotiations and sponsorships.

The broad role sees him involved in most port activities and he is even used as a sounding board. His background allows him to interpret the approaches of others and helps him better communicate at both board level and at the coalface.

Rather than a jack of all trades and master of none, Pittar believes he can be a master of “some,” the only conflict being allocating time so prioritisation is essential.

“You need to use your key staff and assist them to grow,” he says.

Information technology forms 20 to 25 per cent of his role; with an IT department of just two. “The perfect size,” he states. “I have firm views about IT being an enabler, not a means in itself. I am passionate about the use of robust, proven technology to enable managers, employees and users, to be effective in their roles.

“In terms of a port organisation we are a very complex and dynamic entity, with very complex business processes.

“It is no longer acceptable for line managers to be operationally proficient, they also have to be financially effective as well. In order to achieve this, they have to be provided with rich, quality information, basically at their fingertips,” Parke explains.

The origins of Project Genesis

When he arrived at the port most of the the applications, though particularly for financials and payroll, were ‘end-of-life’. The proprietary-based systems had little or no integration, putting the business at risk.

Some directors feared a complete revamp of reporting systems and underlying applications. However, doing nothing was not an option and Pittar says he provided a plan to the board with sufficient confidence that they agreed to the project, known as Project Genesis.

Thanks to his broad role and experience Pittar saw the “transformation” not as an IT project, but a Port of Nelson project needing buy-in from everyone. Many staff were involved in its implementation, which gave them the opportunity and room to grow. He had to have confidence in them, be honest with them and accept there may be speed bumps on the way.

Project approval was granted late in 2004 and by June 2005 Pittar and his team had replaced the payroll system with PayGlobal, the finance systems with Microsoft Navision (now called Microsoft Dynamics) and installed a number of statistical reporting applications, along with the Jade Master Harbour management system.

“Project Genesis was a new start. The endgame we were trying to achieve was a fresh start with a clean sheet. We wanted an enterprise reporting system in a BI environment,” he explains.

For a business the size and speciality of the Port of Nelson, this meant excluding tier one products. Local support was also needed, forcing a focus on off-the-shelf products. Thus, systems had to run on Microsoft and SQL because the necessary skills existed locally.

The port used the 3Fs Framework — functionality (it has to work out of the box), flexibility (it can be modifed as the business changes) and futureproof (the product has a continuing development path).

Thus Jade was also selected for its Master Terminal product soon after, because of the company’s continued commitment to its port systems and through it being a recognised world leader. Jade Master Harbour does vessel berth bookings and integrated with Navision, handles invoicing.

The port also installed Jade Warehousing, which handles the foresty products going through the terminal, just as Master Harbour handles the containers.

This has had significant benefits, including 25 per cent fewer finance staff, monthly reporting now in five days as against the 17 to 18 days in the past. As well, managers down to supervisor level now have their own month-end financial reports, giving the company KPIs and balanced scorecards it never had before.

Summaries on the top five customers, their financial spend and the time the port spends on them are also possible. As well, there is better analysis of container throughput and berth utilisation that helps around congestion and capital-spend issues.

“This is an exceptionally rich report, with logical analysis by profit centre. This shows all the drivers,” says Pittar.

All the information comes from Jade, with financials in summary form including unit metrics at the bottom, revenue per container and other details. The system allows variances to be studied to check whether the reports are correct, or see whether any remedial action is necessary.

The port began building Data Cubes last year, which by slicing and dicing data helps the port better understand the client-cargo business mix. An asset maintenance application, which is also integrated with Navision and PayGlobal, is also underway.

Port of Nelson also claims a New Zealand first in going wireless. Drivers use rugged laptops integrated with radio telephony systems and Jade software to record their work, which improves profitability as all jobs can be recorded and invoiced for.

Useful tools

Business analyst Hugh Stark says the tools have given power to the people. “You cannot give responsibility and accountability without giving them the tools. You cannot raise expectations in a vacuum. It makes for a more exciting place to work,” says Stark.

Pittar confirms a profound culture change across the entire port.

“There’s a realisation that there’s not a single person in the operation that is operationally independent. Everybody realises their actions will affect everyone else in the organisation. It is the same with the information systems. It has placed a heightened discipline on those entering data to get it right first time.”

Pittar says the project, which came in on time and under budget, needed pre-planning and sufficient resources at the start to plan the change management process; the gap between what a company actually needs and what the off-the-shelf products can actually do.

The port accountant manages the process, along with an IT staffer who is knowledgeable on business processes and the machinations of the port. But he accepts more thought could have been given to reporting requirements and the type of information sought.

“We haven’t allowed the IT people to sit in a cave. They have wanted to do it, understand the finance and operations. There is a powerful cross-fertilisation of knowledge and appreciation of their functions and contribution. What makes us different is most companies have finance and IT. We are operationally-based. Finance and IT are supporting functions,” he says.

Naturally, there were challenges in allocating resources for the projects to be delivered on time and long-serving staff accepting the change.

“The benefits were there for everyone to see. Most now accept change as constant as death and taxes and see it as a good thing, as long as it is managed in an appropriate way and manner.”

The transformation process has just begun with the port already seeing increasing benefits from the new platform, Pittar says. “IT in the broadest sense can still be seen as a geeky and expensive necessary evil. We need to work on this image as it is a powerful enabler and as important to a successful business as many revenue-generating activities, by providing a springboard to go from being an ordinary business to a great business,” he concludes.

Fairfax Business Media

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