Experienced innovator Thomas John sees networking as the core of digitalisation. It is his job to make this happen at HHLA.

“The test is about to begin,” says Thomas John. Everyone has to take up positions. Right now, he has no time for more than three sentences because things are still not running as smooth as they should. John hastens through the hallways of the administrative building, aims an encouraging joke at a colleague and talks into the radio device. “To the controller? Yes. Immediately!” He seems to be in his element.

“Dynamic, without rushing and ideally as part of a team” is how he describes his way of working. “I want to create something for my colleagues through my work. Luckily that is no problem in this team – everybody is hungry for something new and wants to test everything straight away.”

With John they are all on the same page. As a member of the project team at HHLA Container Terminal Tollerort (CTT), he constantly has to implement innovative solutions and do a lot of fine-tuning himself. That is why he was appointed to the terminal in 2000. Back then, the radio equipment was to be replaced by mobile data communication; a very complex challenge.

John remembers working on the development of a graphics surface for the displays of large-scale equipment with pretty much no IT knowledge. “The most important thing to keep in mind on such a job is to try and identify all challenges precisely, and also that you will need to test what you implement,” says John. On top of that, you need to ensure that all members of the project team are involved at every stage.

With this principle in mind, John quickly proved himself a good project team member – despite not having any specific formal training. He began an apprenticeship with HHLA as a maritime trade controller back in 1985 and worked for a time at the Kaispeicher A warehouse – which is now crowned with the magnificent glass building of the Elbphilharmonie. For a long time, he earned his money at the biggest HHLA terminal, Burchardkai, and later took parental leave to dedicate himself to his children and school politics in Hamburg – his main hobby.

The most important thing for John was variety. He moved around a lot, worked at other terminals and also for HHLA’s consultancy firm HPC. His activities always had something to do with information technology and logistics. Therefore – and also because he “had already done almost everything” – he is now part of the HHLA programme Fit4Future. He spends most of his working hours there, and is also organising the test field for this mega-project.

John is not particularly happy that the test needs to be interrupted. But there are also lessons to be learned from an interrupted test. He now has time to talk about the Fit4Future programme. At its core is the introduction of the new N4 software as terminal operating software (TOS). “The introduction will be comprehensive and encompass at least 80 percent of all workflows,” he assures. The HHLA terminals in Hamburg will all receive new standard software, which offers brand new possibilities to connect with each other, with customers and with all other players in the field.

The experienced innovator considers one thing in particular to be at the core of digitalisation: networking. “We have incredible amounts of data at our fingertips, but do not always make the most out it. However, the customers demand this from us. They often want to know more about the status of their containers, for example, and not just via email.” John envisions feeding detailed status updates directly into the customer’s data network. He also wants the exchange of data between all actors involved in transport to become more extensive. In his own words: “HHLA Container is going big data.”