Round-the-clock reliability

by Wattie Lo

Thomas Lee
IT operations manager
Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminals Limited
Photo: Dickie Tam

Globally renowned air cargo terminal operator leaves nothing to chance

When it comes to air cargo, timely service is of the essence. But to excel as a top service provider in this fast-paced sector requires more than just speed.

Reliable and risk-free delivery of shipments from one location to another is also imperative and in this regard a secure and sophisticated IT infrastructure supported by a tried and tested recovery system is indispensable.

"Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminals Limited (Hactl) has stringent IT disaster recovery measures in place, which have helped cement the city's leading position in the international air cargo industry," notes Thomas Lee, Hactl's IT operations manager.

The company's service is trusted by its business partners including more than 90 airlines and 1,000 freight forwarders. A key factor that continues to bolster Hactl's reputation is its huge investment in IT infrastructure and its people.

The operator owns and runs the world's largest air cargo terminal, Super Terminal 1 at the Hong Kong International Airport, a US$1 billion state-of-the-art logistics complex that is capable of handling total annual cargo of up to 3.5 million tonnes.

The six-floor complex runs on 30 advanced IT systems, which support its automated operations around the clock. Of these, six are absolutely crucial, according to Mr Lee, as they drive every procedure of Hactl's logistics operations and provide real-time cargo information to staff as well as customers, enabling them to perform a range of activities with the click of a mouse.

"Our Community System for Air Cargo (COSAC), for instance, provides cargo handlers with access to all the information they need to discharge their duties effectively, including incoming-flight schedules, cargo dimensions and types, freight agents and more," says Mr Lee. "The system also makes this information available to external parties, such as airlines, freight agents and government authorities, via our portals."

All systems go

Multinational corporate customers' increasing demand for real-time information and all-day services means that Hactl must ensure the highest possible "uptime" of its computers and core systems, while having the scalability to cater for future growth and business needs.

Since the system must be up and running at all times, it is crucial for Hactl to have IT experts with the knowledge and skills to handle any sudden computer failure. The company has therefore designed and implemented an IT Disaster Recovery Drill as precaution to ensure business continuity.

"The drill is aimed at familiarising our people with the necessary recovery procedures to continue their fundamental business operations manually," Mr Lee explains. "Every two years, we gather more than 100 staff, from service delivery and IT to our engineering department, to participate in a large-scale exercise with representatives from the Airport Authority Hong Kong as observers."

Hactl also performs regular, smaller IT drills, targeting the specific components or processes of each of the six vital IT systems, including COSAC. The objective is to ensure that each component continues to function uninterruptedly and is able to recover from downtime within a short period of time following abrupt system failure.

Detailed plan

Hactl recently successfully completed its latest biennial IT disaster recovery exercise. The drill, conducted during Lunar New Year, was held against the background of a simulated, sudden breakdown of critical IT systems, paralysing data and storage network connections.

Fallback protocols were activated and secondary mainframes immediately set in motion to recover essential systems, with back-up data ensuring continuous processing.

"The drill tested procedure, technology and people," notes Mr Lee. "But people play the most important role in a crisis. It's not just about IT, but also about the response of operations staff and engineers. The ways we work together and how things are coordinated among teams often determine our ability to cope with a catastrophe."

The operator's ultimate aim is total service reliability, so that customers can count on Hactl to provide them with seamless 24-hour cargo-handling services.

"The drill was part of our overall risk-management strategy," Mr Lee points out, adding that it was not without challenges. "Since downtime is a luxury we can't afford, we had to have a detailed plan to ensure that it was business as usual and, among other things, timing was critical."

The company identifies service gaps during every IT drill. "We use what we learn and apply it to improve our systems on an ongoing basis. It's important that we constantly enhance our command of the technology that we use. Only by being in total control can we manage risk effectively," Mr Lee concludes.

Smooth operator

  • Advanced IT infrastructure drives logistics operations and provides real-time information
  • Computerised system provides cargo handlers with access to all information to do their jobs effectively
  • Major IT disaster recovery drill tests technology, procedure and people

Taken from Career Times 30 April 2010, B4

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