Unlocking Sustainability through Efficiency: Building a Collaborative Future

Port Bureau News,

An Update from the Port Bureau Efficiency Committee

In the pursuit of sustainability, efficiency plays a compelling role for all maritime stakeholders.  While sustainability is a widely discussed topic with regulations in place and more to come, its pace is slowed by the need for the development and implementation of new fuels and technologies.  Efficiency, however, involves practical steps that can be taken more directly. It relies on the examination of current port operations and deploying methodologies for improvements that can be realized in a shorter timeframe with effective results.  Barriers to achieving the goal of greater port efficiency include the multiple parties involved, competing interests, lack of visibility, and the absence of data standards and standardized processes.

To address these challenges, the Greater Houston Port Bureau Efficiency Committee, with over 20 members from across the maritime supply chain, are collaborating on port efficiency initiatives. The first project completed in 2023 is the Port Call Process Map, also called the subway map, developed in collaboration with NxtPort, Dow, and Vopak. It was vetted through a subcommittee representing a broad range of industry types.

Additionally, a subcommittee led by NxtPort is actively mapping out data exchanges within the process map to identify the best fit with existing international data standards. The Port Bureau Efficiency Committee is also working on two additional projects focusing on pre-arrival standardization and evaluating port metrics to establish best practices for measuring efficiency.

Collaboratively improving the efficiency of the port region ecosystem is crucial for sustainability, as physical infrastructure is expensive, business expansions continue, and regulations are imminent. By working together, a more sustainable future can be built for the benefit of all.

The Efficiency Committee is open to Corporate Members and Executive Partners of the Greater Houston Port Bureau. To learn more about these initiatives or to join the Efficiency Committee, contact Christine Schlenker at cschlenker@txgulf.org.

Port Bureau Efficiency Committee Charts a Course to Streamline Vessel Calls 

The digital transformation of port calls holds immense promise for enhancing port performance and efficiency. However, the complex combination of many stakeholders using different systems in one of the oldest industries in the world makes sustainable transformation possible only through port-wide collaboration.

Transparency plays a vital role in achieving the objective of port call efficiency. By gaining better visibility into the port call process, we can optimize the utilization of our waterway, improve planning of port calls to maximize vessels' operating capacity per mile, increase the occupancy rate of docks, and significantly enhance workforce productivity.

Establishing secure, accurate, real-time, and consistent transparency that is adopted widely across the community, with equal benefits for all, is essential to achieving viable visibility. Compromised availability and quality of data, unequal distribution of costs and benefits of transparency, system interoperability issues, and, at its core, a lack of standardization in processes and terminology are the chief barriers the Port Bureau Efficiency Committee seeks to overcome.

The Greater Houston Port Call Framework

The Efficiency Committee, in collaboration with NxtPort, Dow, and Vopak, has initiated the development of the Greater Houston Port Call Framework (“the Framework”), aiming to provide a structured and standardized approach to optimizing port calls. The Framework will include (1) a process map and (2) a shared language dictionary, with the opportunity for additional products in the future. While the process map is geared more to the Houston –region's petrochemical supply chain, it is extensible to other ports and cargo types. 

The process map presents a comprehensive visualization of the entire port call process from the perspective of various stakeholders. At present, the map is 80% complete and will evolve more over time.

The shared dictionary will enable all parties involved in port calls to utilize consistent and well-defined terminology to eliminate ambiguity. This will facilitate seamless information exchange, more effective communication, and enhance understanding among stakeholders.

The Process Map

The Framework’s process map offers a visual representation of the port call process in the form of a subway map. The different subway lines represent the various stakeholders involved. The major and minor stations indicate the moments of information exchange, highlighting the entity primarily responsible for the exchange and how it is triggered. The connecting stations represent the recipients of the information.

The map illustrates the five major phases of the port call: voyage, pre-arrival, at berth, in execution, and departure. In the case of multi-parcel port calls, a feedback loop brings the vessel back to the starting point. While the subway map is primarily centered around the vessel, it is important to note that other modes of transport undergo a similar "port call" journey, intersecting with the vessel's port call process at various stages. Future developments may include similar maps for other modes of transport that will be connected to this Framework.

By utilizing a chronological representation of when and to whom information needs to be conveyed, we believe the process map can serve as an effective communication tool in standardization and digitization initiatives. The Efficiency Committee will continue to work with port stakeholders and other industry committees to align the process map with global standards. Feedback from industry stakeholders and technological advancements must guide the refinement of the process map diagram, ensuring its relevance and effectiveness in an ever-evolving digital landscape.

Many people have heard the saying, “if you’ve seen one port, you’ve seen one port,” a reflection of the complexity and exceptions present in port call processes throughout our port region and the world.  As such, the process map may require adjustments to better reflect port calls in other ports and the evolving ways of doing business. Nonetheless, we are dedicated to getting as close as possible to a comprehensive representation, and therefore, we welcome all feedback and comments.

Completing the Port Call Framework

Since each subway station in the process map represents a specific information package to be shared, the Efficiency Committee can zoom in and identify the exact data points that need to be collected and exchanged to add value to the information package. The dictionary will consist of a standardized list of all these data points, including formats, examples, and descriptions. We can then explore how to collect and present common information packages and develop best practices for the most common and crucial information exchanges. Potential future projects may include guidance on digital forms or solutions to help companies bridge the gap in their digital maturity.

Feedback from industry stakeholders and technological advancements must guide the refinement of the process map diagram, ensuring its relevance and effectiveness in an ever-evolving digital landscape. With each update and enhancement, the Port Call Framework will chart a course toward streamlined processes, standardized terminology, and shared efficiency, propelling the Houston port region into a new era of port call digitization. The Efficiency Committee is committed to unlocking the potential of digitization, embracing shared practices, and navigating towards a future of efficient and sustainable port calls. Enhanced port performance and optimized operations is within reach, transforming the way we navigate the seas of global trade.

On behalf of the Efficiency Committee,


Joris Kersten
General Manager