Automating Customs Logistics for the Port of Rotterdam using Domain-Driven Design
- Domain modelling
Aardling guided Portbase in implementing Domain-Driven Design for a centralised, EU-compliant temporary storage for non-union goods.
By facilitating data sharing between companies and Customs, Portbase orchestrates a fast and cost-efficient way of working in the Dutch ports.
The goal of the temporary storage project is to reduce overheads created by moving goods into temporary storage for customs checks and unify temporary storage administration within the Dutch ports.
Aardling modelled the complex rules and processes to support the strategic decision-making process.
The models created during the sessions are robust and durable, which allows Portbase’s development team to move faster.
Their harbour logistics hub connects companies and authorities to provide efficient data exchange and reduce administration.
As experts on software strategy, modelling, and design, Aardling was brought in to advise Portbase on their new system for temporary storage.
What do we mean by temporary storage (aka RTO)?
What the Dutch refer to as "Ruimte tijdelijke opslag" (RTO), is a customs-approved area in a port, where non-EU goods are placed in storage before being placed under a customs entry procedure or re-exported.
Each terminal nowadays maintains its own RTO administration, which causes differences in the way of working and causes a lack of transparency for Customs.
Recent regulation changes mean that all terminals must co-evolve their software systems at the same time. This causes a lot of overhead within the community of deep-sea terminals.
Portbase identified the opportunity to create an RTO system for all deep-sea terminals, resulting in unified agreements and way of working between terminals and Customs.
This gives future opportunities for paperless transferring of cargo between terminals and a port-wide dashboard for Customs, all bounded by a comprehensive container tracking system.
For these types of complex projects, Domain-Driven Design has proven valuable. Aardling was invited to guide Portbase in using Domain-Driven Design to get to a centralised, uniform, adaptable, and easier-to-evolve RTO that will reduce administrative work for its stakeholders and comply with EU legislation.
During the Domain Discovery and Modelling sessions, Aardling consultants and the Portbase staff identified key domain concepts, events, and processes related to RTOs.
They used Event Storming to map out the flow of events, activities, and decisions involved in RTO processes. This allowed them to identify areas of inefficiency, duplication of effort, and errors.
These sessions are crucial to the process of bringing forward the complexities of the project and aligning with stakeholders.
“I was lucky to work with knowledgeable and proactive people. One of the factors that made this a successful project was how quickly they started implementing the ideas from the modelling sessions, giving us a great iterative feedback loop. When things were unclear, the team did the necessary research to get answers within a day.”
Aardling lead consultant for Portbase
It was during this process that the critical workflows were uncovered. Examples included dealing with imports, exports, moving goods from damaged containers to new ones, and transfers between different facilities. There were lots of teams that needed to be consulted.
"In the early sessions with Thomas Coopman, we realised that each team was using different terminology with subtle differences in the language. So for the first few sessions, we spent a lot of time discussing this. To be honest, I found this slightly frustrating at first, but I now realise how helpful it was to quickly align terminology. This enabled us to move faster which was super important.”
Product Owner, Portbase
Another key breakthrough was finding a different model for each workflow. By mapping out all the workflows separately, and analysing them for similarities and differences, the group figured out a set of core workflows that allowed them to be extended for different scenarios. This work paves the way for a more efficient, adaptable, and collaborative RTO design process.
“Now when we dive into complex situations, we go back to our model and it is still very solid. It has proved to be a powerful starting point.”
Product Owner, Portbase
During the sessions, Thomas was also able to identify several simple core scenarios. This allowed the group to build up to more complex scenarios. By creating variations of the underlying models, the pros and cons of each variation could be evaluated. They modelled how the different workflows interacted. This allowed the team to explore a lot of workflows before building the code.
“The sessions prompted rich discussions we wouldn’t have allocated the time for otherwise. We were able to quickly identify the problem, explore several different solutions and pick one. Those sessions are still helping us in our work months on.”
Jeroen Van der Wal
Platform Architect, Portbase
As it is often the case, software teams start losing the overview of the core business once complexity starts adding up. But at Portbase, software modelling has become part of their toolkit.
Now, each time a new detail comes up on their RTO project, they go back to the original model created to keep the big-picture overview fresh in their minds.
The identification of core workflows also allows all stakeholders to work from a common framework and easily communicate and share information.
“It was very helpful to have Aardling’s expertise. They were able to provide unique perspectives on real case scenarios combining the business knowledge with the technology solution.”
Business Analyst, Portbase
Through this collaborative effort, Portbase was able to agree on a solution that met the needs of its stakeholders to reduce administration and improve transparency.
Aardling believes that the successful implementation of this new RTO system demonstrates the value of collaborative and iterative design processes in complex software design projects.