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The case for algorithm-driven workforce planning in terminal operations

With an ever-changing schedule of vessel arrivals, all maritime operations face a complex puzzle to solve: how do we align staffing requirements with changing demand? Algorithm-powered workforce planning solutions can help planners to solve this on a daily basis. They have the potential to greatly increase customer service levels and scheduling efficiency while reducing operational costs for terminal operators. These results are achievable, because algorithms introduce speed and accuracy in the decision-making process, resulting in faster adjustments and a higher degree of flexibility in finding alternative assignments.


Imagine a weekly operation at a terminal where multiple vessels of various sizes arrive and depart. As vessels berth, gangs and assets are mobilised to execute on various underlying tasks for the loading and/or unloading processes. Terminal capacity, employee availability, matching skill sets, union and labour law rules, fatigue rules, and qualifications need to be aligned to meet demand defined by vessel schedules and expected performance of terminal operations.


Developing a plan for this scenario becomes a balancing act of supply and demand that consumes significant time and effort. Adjusting a plan due to the many schedule changes and unforeseen events on short notice adds to this time and effort, often leading to operations teams making last-minute decisions on the fly instead of the planning department.


Today, we see many maritime players with workforce management systems that help them streamline some of the planning processes. However, these systems often lack a clearly defined relation between vessel schedules (demand) and workforce (supply) to make optimal workforce plans and to adapt better to operational changes. Furthermore, many workforce management systems do not support any planning automation and rely solely on manual planning and expert planners, where automation added to that system could actually help them optimise the planning process.


Applying event-driven workforce planning and algorithms


Event-driven workforce planning is broken down into two fundamental parts: the first is to identify the key business drivers that determine the workforce demand. The second is to allocate the necessary gangs to meet demand while taking into account all relevant constraints, like the terminal infrastructure, skill set requirements, labor regulations, and contractual agreements.


This is where algorithms introduce the biggest added value to the process. The dynamics and continuous rework of the planning could be managed by algorithms that automate the planning process and provide alternatives on the fly. They assist planners by significantly reducing time and effort to keep the plan current, give suggestions and allow the terminal to communicate any significant changes in its planning to the outside world.


An event-driven workforce planning that is powered by algorithms provides a more streamlined planning process that reacts in almost real-time, shows more accuracy, and is resilient to unforeseen operational changes, meeting demand and supply, while still obeying the various labour regulations.


When you are thinking about improving your planning process on the terminal, consider in what way you need to automate the decision-making as well.


At Widget Brain, we help terminals automate and optimise their workforce planning process with the Algorithm Factory. We configure, run and maintain these algorithms for our customers to make sure they always provide the best quality, speed and accuracy. The services are easily plugged into your current IT systems. Start optimising today by going to