Various types of software solutions are available to optimise and automate processes in inland container logistics. Different technologies may be used, for example applications that are accessible via a web browser or applications that are accessed through a Windows client. Furthermore, there is a choice of standard software packages, the so-called SaaS solution (Software-as-a-Service), customisation or a combination of both. In addition, the software can be hosted on different servers. In this article, we explain the manner in which our products are structured, why we have deliberately opted for this type of product range and the advantages this combination of product types yields; we also explain our vision for the future.
Over the past 25 years, the inland container logistics market has experienced impressive growth. According to the Port of Rotterdam Authority, some 15 million TEU was handled in the port of Rotterdam in 2022. In 1998, this was still only 2.9 million TEU (Source: Nieuwsblad Transport). To accommodate this growth, inland container terminals and carriers have expanded their sites, modernised equipment, increased fleets, recruited new employees, etc. in recent decades. Above all, they have substantially invested in digitisation and automation in recent years. The faster the organisation grows and the larger it becomes, the higher its requirements regarding digital infrastructure and, resulting from that, the software and hardware. At Modality, we have noticed that in terms of software, our customers value the following:
- Compatibility with the business processes
The software must be compatible with the specific processes of our customer. In addition, the wishes of our customer’s customers, the infrastructure of the terminal and specific permits and/or services must be taken into consideration regarding the development of the software.
The software must be stable. A customer wants to be certain that their software is up and running or available 24/7.
It must be possible to adequately secure the software. Business-sensitive information must be shielded as much as possible against unauthorised access.
The software must be user-friendly. New employees must be able to quickly start working with the software.
It must be possible to quickly adapt the software in order to anticipate developments within the market.
It has to be possible to scale up or scale down the software as certain business activities grow or shrink.
- Price-quality ratio
The software must have a good price-quality ratio.
The software must be ready for the future. The technology used must be able to meet customer requirements in the longer term as well.
As a software supplier, we are continuously developing products that allow us to meet as many customer requirements as possible whilst also taking into account developments in the field of IT. Our Research & Development (R&D) department tests our products against the following criteria:
- Can we functionally program all requested system functions with our software?
- Can we technically program all desired system interfaces with our software?
User-friendliness, speed and compatibility with the latest technology are important values in the development of our products.
Modality product offering
Modality provides ‘standard-custom’ software for its customers. By this, we mean that the functions in the main processes are supported for about 80% by standard system functions and standard EDI interfaces. The remaining 20% includes customisation based on customer-specific requirements; think of requirements made by our customer’s customers, for example, or requirements related to the infrastructure of the terminal. Our software solutions are uniquely tailored to each customer and often consist of a main application (the core system) and web applications that are linked to the main application as different modules. The core system or main application is accessed through a Windows client, the web applications are accessed through a browser. The core systems always run on the customer’s server. This server may be located on-site at the customer (on-premise) or may be hosted at a data centre (private cloud). In both cases, the server belongs to the customer and is not shared with other parties, as is often the case with a 100% web application. The supplementary web modules that we develop at Modality can also be installed on the customer’s own server, or customers can decide to outsource the hosting to us.
Advantages standard-custom software
The combination of standard modules supplemented with customised functionalities is a deliberate product choice. Combining both product types enables us to accommodate as many customer requirements as possible. For example, the main processes are largely the same for every customer (such as the modules for order entry, planning, invoicing, etc.) while the use of shared source code ensures that our systems are scalable and makes it possible to respond to new developments ‘relatively’ quickly; one example that comes to mind here is the Portbase service Hinterland Container Notification (HCN). We can also easily expand the number of users, connect new locations and add EDI interfaces. We say ‘relatively’ quickly because adjusting individual systems is simply more time-consuming than being able to fully deploy the programming capacity on one system, as is the case with standard packages. However, we notice that customers often have individual urgent requirements, such as the development of an API interface with the system of a new customer. Were we to choose a standard package, then the programming of a new interface would not start until there is sufficient demand, meaning customers would need to wait for the release date.
The customisation part ensures that the system is fully tailored to the processes of the individual customer and that all functionalities are optimally utilised (in contrast to the use of standard software packages, where not all functionalities are relevant for every Modality customer). Because the system is fully aligned with the processes of the individual customer and system functions are structured in a manner that supports the sequence of operations of a specific customer, users often experience the system as being user-friendly. Our customers also value our price-quality ratio, because they only pay for functionalities that they actually use.
Advantages of combined use object-oriented and web development tools
We develop our main applications in Delphi. This is a so-called object-oriented development tool. In terms of development speed, oversight and manageability, Delphi still is an outstanding development tool for expanding and maintaining our core applications. The user interface, or the user environment in which our customers work, may feel less modern to some of our customers compared to user interfaces within web applications, but it still offers more technical possibilities than most web development tools. For example, Delphi allows us to build technically advanced planning screens that are aligned across multiple screens. A technology which makes the job of the planner easier, but which is more difficult to realise within a web environment. This is due to the limited possibilities and impossibilities that an internet browser offers. Of course, working with web applications also offers advantages. To be able to log in to our main application, you need hardware. Our system is accessed via the Windows client that is installed on a local PC. For applications where mobility is important, for example a crane application or a truck app, a web application offers more convenience. All you need to access the web applications is an internet connection on a mobile device. You can also use web applications to make data available to external parties, such as providing customers access to a Client Portal.
Combining different development tools ensures that we can offer a fitting solution for every application our customers may have. Moreover, working with different tools ensures that we have different types of specialists at our disposal and are not solely dependent on one specific programming language. Not only does this enable us to flexibly provide different types of software solutions right now, but we can also easily anticipate new emerging technologies in the future. Incidentally, both types of applications are linked to a central database. The quality of the database in combination with the quality of our applications (i.e.: how well it is programmed) ensures stable software that is accessible and operational 24/7.
Use of the Modality core application
Advantages of server under own management
Both our main application and the additional web modules are installed on the server of our customer. Therefore, this server is only used by the customer and is not shared with other parties; this is not the case for most 100% web solutions. When customers control their own servers, security becomes more manageable. Furthermore, applications that are accessed via a Windows client model, such as our core applications, are easier to secure against unauthorised access from the outside than web applications. From a security point of view, a 100% web application is definitely not always an ideal solution.
Product development with an eye to the future
Most systems used by Modality customers have been in development for more than 20 years already. This means that a vast ‘legacy’ has been built up over the years. With systems that comprise more than 20 years of customised wishes and knowledge, you cannot just switch to another technology. Given the fact that our current technology still enables us to meet the most important customer requirements, this has also not yet been necessary. As a software supplier, you do want to be able to flexibly switch to another technology if said technology better meets the customer’s requirements. With our many years of knowledge, we know better than anyone where these needs lie and what kind of products are required to most effectively achieve them. Now and in the future. The combination of products we provide most optimally meets this customer need at present, both functionally and technically. Looking to the future, we do see an important change though. Not so much within the market for inland container logistics, but definitely when it comes to education in the field of IT. We maintain close ties with training institutes where Computer Science and Software Engineering are taught. A trend that we are noticing there is that students are currently only trained for web programming. In view of these developments, we established our web department in 2015. Nowadays, this is a fully-fledged team that not only focuses on the development of our various web applications but also on the development of a 100% web module. We expect to start testing the first pilot version in early 2024. Of course, we will only launch these products on the market when we are fully certain that we can guarantee the required security, technology and functionalities and can provide our customers with the quality they have come to expect from us. Until then, our R&D department will continue to develop web products supplementary to our core applications.
In summary; the advantages of the Modality system
The Modality system, which makes use of a combination of custom software and standard modules and in which the core application is linked to various web applications, provides the following advantages:
- The system is fully tailored to the processes of the individual customer, resulting in the various functionalities being optimally used
- The system is experienced as being user-friendly because functionalities are tailored to customer-specific use
- Because the system is largely made up of standard modules, scaling up is easy; think of adding new users, connecting new locations or adding EDI interfaces, for example
- The possibility of customisation ensures that systems can be adapted relatively quickly, for example when new interfaces are required; this means customers do not need to wait for a market-wide release date
- The system is stable due to high-quality software and database
- There is a suitable solution for every application. Is security important? The core application can be secured very easily. Does mobility matter? You can easily make use of the web applications with a mobile device and a good internet connection
- The various applications are installed on servers that are managed by the customer. As a result, security and control over data can be better guaranteed
Do you have any questions about our product range after reading this article? Or about the differences between our systems and alternative solutions within the market? We are happy to answer your questions! You can contact us directly via firstname.lastname@example.org or via +31 (0) 180 531 035.