Lean methodology: Visuality is a link between the data and the people

James Hosken (Client Executive)
by James Hosken | Client Executive

Published in Port Technology International Journal, Edition 131-2023. Read the whole journal:



A picture is worth a thousand words. This phrase expresses the benefits of the port digital twin as a user interface for Port Management Information System. The phrase summarises the same conclusion as behavioural studies: visuals make complex processes more tangible, optimising comprehension, problem-solving, and performing.

Visuality is also part of Lean management, a highly appreciated business approach to increase processes’ efficiency, safety, and quality. Lean methodologies in companies aim to maximise customer value, eliminate waste, and improve continuously.

The visual method, called visual management, pinpoints the importance of communicating information in a visual and real-time manner throughout the processes. Visuality is seen as a link between the data and the people.

Ports are utilising visual management methods in daily work already in many ways. Lights, buoys, and other aids to navigation are traditional examples of visual elements to ease everyday work in ports. Work instructions, traffic lights, and area line marking are in the same category.

A new approach in ports is visualising data online to have a common situational view of running processes. Digitalisation enables access to data everywhere – whether working in the office, remotely, in the field or meeting the customer in their facilities.


Digital twin prevents information silos

By its nature, a digital twin is a visual counterpart of the real-world port. It’s constructed of 2D and 3D data files, 3D models, georeferenced asset data files, and georeferenced 360° photos which present port infrastructure and assets. Additionally, different processes are digitalised to provide transparency for all the relevant stakeholders.

At the start level, a digital twin provides a visual and intuitive user interface to physical port infrastructure accessible anywhere, anytime for the authority. Georeferenced data is crucial, as accurate location information is essential for maximising utilisation possibilities in maintenance and port operations. It can be used, for example, for investment planning, reviewing current site opportunities with potential clients, or finding and sharing day-to-day information easily from port assets to different stakeholders.

Linking the information in the easily accessible manner already saves significantly time in day-to-day collaboration between different port departments and with external stakeholders. It also significantly decreases potential knowledge loss in the organisation and improves overall knowledge management.

Relevant questions for port management to consider are: does our current organisation have information silos in different departments? What is the risk of internal information silos for the short and long-term performance of the organisation?


20 – 30 per cent more efficiently

A digital twin is a new technology for the port industry. It’s better known in the manufacturing industry where digital twins give smart manufacturers the real-time insights they need to make production decisions quickly. In our experience, people may lack information about the possibilities and benefits of the digital twin for the port industry.

Most people think of a digital twin as a nice-to-have visualisation tool for port infrastructure. Harbour master’s and estate managers have been impressed when we introduced how a digital twin can help to optimise many port processes.

To name a few processes: many ports are using the view of their port digital twin to go through the tasks in exact locations in their weekly meetings. They look for available berths for arriving vessels. They visualise and analyse data to share information on construction or dredging plans with subcontractors. They demonstrate available rental warehouses for customers in sales meetings.

The main finding is that work optimisation has produced results in efficiency. Our port customers say they are 20 – 30 per cent more efficient than they used to be. It’s many hours a week to utilise better for more productive work or notice when looking for savings.

Optimisation in these cases has meant that ports have digitalised information and processes to utilise and share it more efficiently between port departments. Communication with subcontractors, operators, and agents has also streamlined in the port community.

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Benefits come up in six months

After defining the value added for current processes and port departments, ports have implemented a digital twin in a few steps.

The first step has been to create a digital twin of infrastructure 2D and 3D data. This phase usually lasts about one to two months, depending on what kind of 3D and georeferenced data the port already owns. Getting started with a digital twin technology doesn’t require massive investments.

Depending on the port’s current data management, the additional assets’ metainformation can be uploaded directly into the digital twin, or additional metainformation can be integrated from the current documentation system into the visual interphase of the digital twin with minimal changes in current processes.

The second step has been to connect different processes to digital twin to improve transparency for all the relevant stakeholders. Not just files and documents, but also communication processes, for example, with agents including berth and service orders.

With these steps ports have successfully implemented digital twin as a user interface to plan and perform daily work. Berth planning, safety inspections, maintenance tasks, and communication during construction projects, to name a few, are done more efficiently with the help of the shared information and smart tools in the digital twin. Efficiency has grown even more with easiness of utilising and understanding visualised data.

In the last step, employees in ports have been so satisfied with the digital twin that they would not like to work without it. Our port customers have confirmed it has taken only about six months to one year to get to the point where they have earned more valuable benefits than the time or money they have spent on digitalising information or teaching their employees to digitalise every piece of information.


Common situational view

Visual management is, after all, mainly about efficient communication. Digitalisation gives us new tools to visualise and link data with people.

At the port organisation level, updated and shared information is vital for quality in customer service, maintaining assets cost-efficiently and sustainably, and improving knowledge management. Visualisation also supports in complex decision making, which is always present when ports consider investments which can expand over decades.

That’s why visuality is not just a nice-to-have feature in a system, but a critical component in supporting decision making and communication in ports. Following Lean methodology by utilising digital tools enables one to share a common situational view of processes at the operational and management levels.

Like one of our customers stated: “It’s not just about becoming digital and implementing new technologies, but rather about introducing new efficient and digital working methods, as well as improving collaboration and efficiency with all internal and external stakeholders within the wider port community.”

In the end, a digital twin is a daily tool for all port departments to run a port in an efficient, safe, and sustainable manner.

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