From cards to N4 software

Thomas Schütz is head of an incredibly important and vital project: the introduction of N4 software across HHLA’s Hamburg container terminals.

You’ve probably heard of it, the legendary card system once used to help manage the container yard. “The number of each steel box would be noted on a piece of card,” remembers Schütz. “You’d then call over the radio to find out which storage space the container would be occupying and place its card in the corresponding slot on the board.”

As the head of the N4 project, he is now responsible for guiding the HHLA container terminals on their last remaining steps out of the past and into the future. The new N4 terminal administration, planning and management software is intended to give HHLA’s three Hamburg container terminals a future-proof, integrated and standardised foundation for terminal operations.

"One of our most important Projects at hhla"

“It is one of our most important projects here at HHLA,” says Schütz. “If the conversion doesn’t work, we will soon no longer be able to handle the ships with our old systems.” Which is why, in summer 2017, he made the decision to move from the CTB to an office full of eager project managers, terminal operations specialists and software experts. 

Even back in 1991, when Schütz was writing his thesis at the HHLA Container Terminal Burchardkai (CTB), these processes were the last remaining relics of an analogue terminal management system. “Since then, there has been a massive push toward digitisation,” says Schütz, who has planned and driven the digitisation process himself in a number of roles around the company.

What started with his thesis on optimising deployment management for straddle carriers took him on to become the manager of the N4 project. Schütz loves a challenge and has been involved in projects of this scale throughout his career. Some of those he managed in his early years at Hamburg Port Consulting were pioneering.

He was taken on by HHLA’s consulting firm after he graduated, and was soon offered the chance to take part in a project at CTB involving the world’s first system for positioning containers using satellite data and systemic space assignment. Goodbye cards, hello data!

The World, Honduras and back to Hamburg

He travelled the maritime world for HPC, taking an extended stopover in Honduras in 1998 when Hurricane Mitch devastated Central America. “The only running water we had was from the from the roof we were lucky to have over our heads, but it was a very exciting experience,” recalls Schütz. But when his second child arrived, his family felt they needed a more long-term plan. So they chose to return to Hamburg, back to HPC and HHLA.

At the time, the company was undertaking a high-pressure project to develop a new logistics concept for CTA, one that would make it the world’s most advanced container terminal. Schütz, who was responsible for integrating the hinterland into the processes and IT architecture, found the project extremely exciting. And his next task at CTB was just as challenging. As a project manager, Schütz played a key role in helping to double the capacity of Burchardkai.

At some point, HHLA asked itself why Schütz was working for HPC. After all, he had spent most of his working life at the HHLA terminals. So he was offered a contract and began his new career managing terminal development at CTB. Together with his team, he brought in the now-established ITS management system for the new, fully networked control centre. After a few years managing operations at the control centre and CTB, and as a member of the CTB board, he moved on to the N4 mega-project.

Born in Lübeck and raised in the Barmbek area of Hamburg, Schütz now lives close to Lüneburg. He loves the peace and quiet of the village-like idyll where he can walk his dog in the evenings and put the challenges of the day behind him.