An Agent-based Approach for Improving the Performance of Distributed Business Processes in Maritime Port Community
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In the recent years, the concept of “port community” has been adopted by the maritime transport industry in order to achieve a higher degree of coordination and cooperation amongst organizations involved in the transfer of goods through the port area. The business processes of the port community supply chain form a complicated process which involves several process steps, multiple actors, and numerous information exchanges. One of the widely used applications of ICT in ports is the Port Community System (PCS) which is implemented in ports in order to reduce paperwork and to facilitate the information flow related to port operations and cargo clearance. However, existing PCSs are limited in functionalities that facilitate the management and coordination of material, financial, and information flows within the port community supply chain. This research programme addresses the use of agent technology to introduce business process management functionalities, which are vital for port communities, aiming to the enhancement of the performance of the port community supply chain. The investigation begins with an examination of the current state in view of the business perspective and the technical perspective. The business perspective focuses on understanding the nature of the port community, its main characteristics, and its problems. Accordingly, a number of requirements are identified as essential amendments to information systems in seaports. On the other hand, the technical perspective focuses on technologies that are convenient for solving problems in business process management within port communities. The research focuses on three technologies; the workflow technology, agent technology, and service orientation. An analysis of information systems across port communities enables an examination of the current PCSs with regard to their coordination and workflow management capabilities. The most important finding of this analysis is that the performance of the business processes, and in particular the performance of the port community supply chain, is not in the scope of the examined PCSs. Accordingly, the Agent-Based Middleware for Port Community Management (ABMPCM) is proposed as an approach for providing essential functionalities that would facilitate collaborative planning and business process management. As a core component of the ABMPCM, the Collaborative Planning Facility (CPF) is described in further details. A CPF prototype has been developed as an agent-based system for the domain of inland transport of containers to demonstrate its practical effectiveness. To evaluate the practical application of the CPF, a simulation environment is introduced in order to facilitate the evaluation process. The research started with the definition of a multi-agent simulation framework for port community supply chain. Then, a prototype has been implemented and employed for the evaluation of the CPF. The results of the simulation experiments demonstrate that our agent-based approach effectively enhances the performance of business process in the port community.
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