A digital platform for managing smart container ports
Here’s how Thales helped develop the Ci5 collaborative freight management platform at the Port of Marseille Fos for port solutions company MGI.
At the Port of Marseille Fos in France, huge container ships arrive and depart 24 hours a day, carrying goods from all over the globe. Choreographing this never-ending ballet is the Vigie control tower – the nerve centre of the port’s operations. The tower coordinates all the disciplines involved, from the pilots who skilfully manoeuvre the vessels into the terminal to the linesmen who secure them to their berths.
Once safely docked, specialist operatives working up to 54 metres above ground drive the gigantic gantry cranes that load and unload hundreds of containers a day. Dockworkers store the containers in the warehouses and check their contents before reloading them onto the army of trucks that enter and leave the terminal facility.
A huge number of agencies are involved, from port authorities, customs and the police to shipowners and plant health control. France’s largest commercial seaport handled 81 million tonnes of freight in 2018 — a complex logistics operation!
To meet this challenge, the Port of Marseille has adopted a third-generation cargo community system called Ci5. Developed by Marseille-based company MGI — which has 30 years of experience in port solutions — this innovative digital platform allows freight to be managed collaboratively. Ci5 is based on an information sharing software application that allows everyone involved to track freight in transit at the port, so that it can be processed faster and more efficiently.
A complete software revamp
Worldwide, only 16% of ports currently have a cargo community system in place. So, for MGI, growth prospects are significant. To capture new business in this highly competitive sector, the software developer decided in 2016 to completely revamp its solution.
The new Ci5 needed to be:
- Easy to use, with a more intuitive interface and fewer clicks
- High performance, thanks to faster software response time
- Interoperable, so it can be accessed on tablets, smartphones and other devices
- Scalable to allow new functionality to be added as Internet of Things, Big Data and artificial intelligence technologies evolve
To specify project parameters, design the architecture for the software, develop it and continuously improve it at the production phase, MGI called on Thales. MGI was already familiar with Thales’s expertise in the digital technologies underpinning the Ci5 platform and our experience in managing agile projects.
Agility and DevOps approach
To meet the customer’s requirement, the Thales engineers adopted innovative methods:
- The entire project was managed in an agile approach and split into a series of two-week phases called ‘sprints’. At the end of each sprint, part of the solution is delivered to the customer. This method helps us stay ahead of schedule and prioritise the elements to be developed. It also requires real focus and engagement by the teams.
- On the IT outsourcing front, the team decided to break with the conventional practice of assigning development to one team and production to another. Instead, both were entrusted to the same engineers. This kind of DevOps approach is more complex to implement, but it’s a proven way to help the team be more responsive and improve project delivery.
On 16 October 2018, the switchover took place from the previous platform used by the Port of Marseille to Ci5. The Thales team pulled out all the stops to fix a few issues identified at this crucial phase and was on-hand to support users in the first few days of operation. Most users were quickly and easily up to speed with the new software, which is now more intuitive.
With real-time freight tracking and faster formalities, the platform enables the fifteen or more disciplines in the logistics chain to save valuable time. Goods now move faster through the port. With the new Ci5 platform, the Port of Marseille is more competitive. MGI has also halved its IT hosting and outsourcing costs.
With the rapid growth of freight transport by sea, competition between the world’s container ports is increasingly fierce. They’re automating and installing arrays of sensors. To manage these smart ports, Ci5 will need to incorporate new technologies and constantly adapt to new requirements. A challenge that’s just made for the Thales engineers!