At the world's busiest airport for international cargo, one company is looking to IT to achieve enhanced efficiency. Despite the wonders of systems and technology, however, quality people are still the most important factor in its success, and with local and regional economies surging, there are many opportunities on the horizon.
Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminals Limited (Hactl) has played an important role in boosting Hong Kong's position in the worldwide logistics industry. To build SuperTerminal 1, its flagship facility for airfreight that enables a maximum annual throughput of 3,500,000 tonnes, the company has invested more than one billion US dollars.
Due to space limitations, the giant depot has a unique design that utilises vertical expansion as well as automated handling systems to process millions of dollars worth of cargo every day. Its direct and sheltered interface provides more than 3,500 fully automatic and highly secure storage positions for cargo containers and more than 10,000 positions for bulk cargo.
"To maintain smooth operation of the terminal, it is vital to build a reliable and efficient logistic control system using information technology," Andy Bien, general manager of information services at Hactl points out.
Spanning the eastern and western perimeters of the world's largest air cargo terminal, Hactl's container storage system is programmed to move cargo units and pallets at an optimum speed.
Accounting for some 80 per cent of shipments coming in and out of Hong Kong International Airport, Hactl sets itself high standards. "Our service levels for critical systems are set at 99.8 per cent or above," Mr Bien says. To complement this efficiency, many of Hactl's IT systems are operated in pairs which means the company can avoid a complete system failure in the case of an outage in one system.
As well as acting as a failsafe, the IT systems enhance timely communication and data transparency and encompass a key part in its total customer satisfaction.
Hactl has also established a highly advanced online logistics management system, Community System for Air Cargo (COSAC), to serve its large client base which includes an excess of 85 airlines and 1,000 freight forwarders.
Developed by in-house IT experts, COSAC connects major segments of the logistics chain, including airlines, freight forwarders, government authorities, customs, shippers and consignees with a common database. With over 200 member functions, it provides an electronic platform for a range of business operations such as cargo tracking and manifest creation and submission. It is the foundation of Hactl's IT services and instigates various e-initiatives like shortening cargo dwell time in import and export handling procedures at the terminal.
According to Mr Bien, the IT team is progressing at speed with the latest initiatives of the air cargo community. This includes an e-freight scheme being launched by the International Air Transport Association, which promotes a paper free environment in the industry. Hactl is also working to amalgamate with other industry players to streamline processes and eliminate the long-standing dependency on paper throughout the cargo supply chain.
"We are working towards a heightened security standard. Since the 9/11 incident, the US government has raised the bar for flight safety. As it is anticipated that these more stringent regulations will extend to other countries, we need to plan ahead to cater for the higher requirements, such as creating a more powerful platform that allows increased amounts of consignment information," Mr Bien adds.
Hactl's IT expertise is demonstrated by the numerous international achievements it has attained through the years. For instance, it has been granted the ISO 9001:2000 certificate, a symbol of quality service and best practice in the organisation, since 2003.
In line with rapid technology growth in Hactl, the IT team is preparing to welcome new members in both its development and computer operation sections. At present, there are about 120 staff in the Hong Kong headquarters, with more than 30 vacancies forecast in the coming year.
Cecilia Cheung, Hactl's general manager of personnel notes that the competition for IT talent has become more intense in recent times as the economy has been strong.
She adds that it is necessary to keep a close eye on salary trends and HR changes in the market to close the gap between employers' and employees' expectations.
To retain key people, Hactl is creating a company culture that fosters staff loyalty and boosts personal career prospects as many employees focus on these elements in addition to financial rewards.
"For some talent, working on our unique automation system is already a magnet, alongside other benefits. People who are not afraid of dealing with contingency and changes will find Hactl the right place for their careers," Ms Cheung notes.