"Making operations go the right way" – About the role of an interim operations manager

What sets HPC apart from other consultancies is our consultants' strong operational roots, who have many years of professional background in the terminal and port industry. This helps us to translate planning into practice that works. When concepts, plans, and roadmaps are created, operational insiders know where the pitfalls lurk.

HPC can also provide terminal operators with experienced managers when, for example, new operational areas are to be set up, or terminals are commissioned. This happened for Piattaforma Logistica Trieste (PLT), the latest addition to HHLA's international terminal portfolio.

We recently interviewed Giovanni Calderone, Terminal Planner and Operations Manager at HPC, who helped smooth the commissioning process as Interim Operations Manager at PLT, asking him to share his experiences.

Giovanni, would you like to describe your scope of responsibility in your role as Interim Operations Manager at PLT?

In the nature of commissioning a terminal under a new operator, the range of tasks for the operations manager is quite extensive. In this case of PLT, I had two primary functions. 

One task was to implement the terminal operating system, a typical IT consulting topic that belongs to one of the 'bestsellers' of HPC's consulting services. The cargo portfolio and its future development determine the TOS requirements and related operational processes for implementing the TOS system. We needed to newly model operational processes and align them with the IT landscape and working orders. Furthermore, of course, time-intensive system testing and troubleshooting before starting operations belonged to the scope.

The second primary task was hiring people, teaching them from scratch, and ensuring that they fit in the corporate culture. All three components come with their challenges.

Speaking about the team onsite, how would you describe the collaboration with the colleagues at the terminal?

Excellent collaboration, indeed. Even though people were so busy, it was a great culture of support, helping each other, and most importantly, transparent exchange of all information needed to understand processes, goals, and requirements. In my role, I had to make operations go the right way. I felt very supported in this mission by the PLT team. 

What was the main obstacle to take?

Let me put it this way; we had an ambitious roadmap, and commissioning terminal operations with a new system, with new processes and new staff, is naturally linked with problems that can cause challenges. So, the team and I have worked very hard to master those challenges, such as lack of time, limited resources, and budget constraints. In the end, we successfully went live. That is what counts!

The commissioning occurred during the European lockdown waves caused by Covid-19. How did you manage Covid-19-related challenges?

While some tasks, like planning or operational procedures, can be done remotely, the preparation of the implementation, hiring people, and the final ‘Go live’ processes require you to be physically there. 

So, I moved to Trieste for the ‘hot phase' of about four months. I think it helped that I speak Italian. It is then easier to choose the right words at the right moment to keep communication and work flowing – whether remotely or onsite. 

Onsite, we followed the same Covid-19 regulations that HHLA employees need to follow at every terminal. So that was not an additional major challenge on the path to starting the terminal operations.

What do you consider as your most tremendous success in this project?

I think the most significant impact of my role was the stabilisation of roro operations. In operations, you don't understand them if you don't see them. It was a bit difficult, having only one vessel call a week and training the new staff on the job. 

Our team – 15 people of the office and the gate crew together – helped the terminal manage a frequent vessel call reliably. This is of utmost importance because this roro terminal serves one major customer. 

That makes me very proud, and I congratulate the entire PLT team for these efforts. It was exceptionally done, indeed!

So, from an HPC point of view, what is your takeaway?

Supporting terminal operators by providing interim ops management skills and capacity is a standard service of HPC. We have done it in the past, e.g., the container terminal of Odessa (HHLA CTO) was managed by us initially. So, this project did not come up with significant surprises, and we built on the lessons learned previously. 

Since it was my first commissioning, when it comes to turning theory (a plan) into practice, the most critical requirements for this job are practical experience and management skills. Being able to be directive while motivating and at the same time being part of the team is key to success.

Of course, a solid deployment roadmap that considers worst-case scenarios/pitfalls helps structure the road to go live. 

Congratulations on the successful delivery of Go Live, Giovanni, and thank you for this chat!