Terminal automation software is not a commodity
While terminal automation software is a critical piece of operating technology for companies that store and transport bulk commodities, the software itself is NOT a commodity.
What does this mean?
Globally, there are a few terminal automation software system vendors. As a terminal operating company, how do you think about terminal automation software when you are buying or upgrading your technology? Do you think each vendor’s product is a replica of the next?
Each product has unique features and capabilities. Furthermore, the potential cost savings by implementing one software system vs another can be quite large — from hundreds of thousands of dollars to millions depending on BBLs of storage. So what drives the delta in cost savings?
Uncovering the answer starts by asking questions and carefully comparing automation software products.
What separates one terminal automation software product from another
Flexibility - How easy is it to extend the product’s core functionality to map to your terminal’s unique operations? Your business needs should dictate your operations, not the automation system that you install.
Does the product produce the reports you need? Is the product able to automatically produce and distribute the reports that your customers need on the proper schedule?
Does it adequately handle truck, rail, marine and pipeline movements?
If you store NGLs and bulk petroleum products - can you use the same software product on both terminal types?
Integration - Automation can be defined by one word: integration. Connecting disparate loading racks together alongside your tank gauging systems is a key function of terminal automation software and having a terminal automation system with restricted integration capabilities can be problematic.
Can the software product integrate with any hardware you install or already have installed?
Hardware integration restrictions hurt in two ways
More expensive to automate
Less of your operation can be automated leading to higher operating costs
Can it integrate with your existing business software systems (like an ERP)?
If you are double keying data, you are not taking full advantage of terminal automation software
Real-time supply chain visibility - When you order a package with UPS, you can watch it from origin to destination. Why can’t we do that with bulk liquids shipments and receipts?
Does the software allow your customers to see their liftable inventory?
Can all parties in the supply chain see what’s happening at the terminal in real-time?
Providing more visibility will delight your customers and potentially help increase throughput
Self-service administration - Does the software provide an intuitive portal for your customers to upload and access administrative information?
Can your customers easily access BOLs and information on completed orders?
Collecting administrative information is significantly more efficient and secure when done through structured workflows in a software application
Customer support - Does the vendor provide 24/7/365 technical support to support your loading operations? Since terminal automation systems integrate directly with powerful, complex hardware devices, issue resolution can be complicated. It is important that your vendor has reliable and capable support so that your terminal can experience as little downtime as possible.
Just as with the terminal automation software product, the customer support of your vendor should not be viewed as a commodity. Different vendors may have better trained support technicians who will ultimately do a better job resolving issues
Commitment to full automation via robust integration capabilities
As you can see, there are many important features and capabilities that distinguish one terminal automation system from the next.
As technology continues to evolve and terminaling companies look to automate more and more of their operations, Dearman Systems is here to provide reliable products that integrate with any hardware and software system to ensure profitable automation systems are installed. Once installed, we are committed to supporting our customers with premium support that can be relied on at all hours of the day. Contact us today for a free consultation.