AN ESSENTIAL MARKET RESEARCH AND PRODUCTIVITY TOOL
FOR THE TRANSPORTATION INDUSTRY

Paper Presented at the Annual Conference of The Canadian Transportation Research Forum:
CTRF, May 14-17, 1995, Aylmer, Qubec

by

Hazem Ghonima
President
TAF Consultants

Ottawa, Canada
E. mail: HazemGhonima@tafis.com


INTRODUCTION

The Canadian transportation system is a complex network of transportation routes and modes competing for commodities flowing between various domestic and international supply and demand centres. The type, amount and direction of the commodities moving through this network are influenced by a multitude of interdependent economical, technological, political and institutional factors at domestic and global levels. In a rapidly changing competitive transportation environment, comprehensive and efficient freight traffic data and forecasts are vital for strategic planning and development in the transportation industry. Analysis of the present and future behaviour of commodity flows require the examination and interpretation of large amount of information before any sound decision can be made. The complexity of the transportation system, the unavailability of comprehensive logically organized and harmonized information on commodity flows at reasonable cost make this task difficult. A solution to this problem is to develop and use knowledgeable computerized systems that provide comprehensive information on commodity flows at optimum costs.

This paper will examine the Commodity Flow Information System COMFIS , the latter was developed by the Author and reflects his vision of the tool needed to respond to the problem. Major factors which prompted the development of this system will be reviewed. The system concept and approach will be examined prior to describing its structure, components, outputs, applications and its impact on productivity in the transportation industry. Versions of COMFIS are presently installed and used by several organizations.


THE PROBLEM

Many factors necessitate the development and use of a tool such as COMFIS. It would have been relevant to review them in more details since the experience gained in encountering these problems might save a lot of efforts and money for many organizations - this topic may be the subject of another paper. However, for the purpose of this paper, the most important factors that prompted the development of a market research and productivity tool such as COMFIS can be summarized as follows:

CONCEPT AND APPROACH

The system discussed in this paper reflects the growing needs for the uses of computerized information for traffic analysis and forecasting as well as the evolution in software and hardware technologies.

The system’s global approach is based on the concept that elements of a transportation system and factors that influence them are interrelated. By visualizing this relationship in a computerized information system, the identification, analysis and estimation of the present and future type, amount and direction of commodities flowing through a transportation network become efficient (Please see the above Figure).

Simply put, COMFIS visualizes the World transportation system as a multitude of transportation networks comprising transportation nodes and alternative routes and modes that are competing for commodities flowing between various domestic and international supply and demand centres. The amount and direction of commodities flowing through this network are influenced by several interrelated economic, technological, political and institutional factors at domestic and global levels. By assessing the impact of these factors, the process of analysing and forecasting commodity flows and traffic through alternative modes and routes is greatly enhanced and its credibility increased.

Accuracy of information, the ease of access and cost-effectiveness are the major objectives of this system. By operating on cost-effective micro-computers and a user-friendly environment, the information within the system is easily accessed and obtained with optimum maintenance, resources and costs, which makes it an ideal tool for budget conscious organizations seeking efficiency in a modern competitive transportation industry.

OVERVIEW AND STRUCTURE

COMFIS is based on a modular expandable core technology allowing additional modules that reflect present and future requirements. It consists of several integrated modules and sub-modules. COMFIS’ modules are composed of objects that represent major transportation elements and variables related to commodities flowing between the centres of production and consumption. The system simulates the flow of commodities by logically organizing the objects (elements and variables) according to their sequential relationship in the commodity flow process. Moreover, a module can include one or more sub-modules and objects can be grouped into an object group.

The figure above shows COMFIS’ logical structure and the relationship between its various objects. Accordingly, the commodity flow is a process which is represented by several object groups, each of which is composed of several objects (transportation elements and variables) as follows:

Supply/Demand

Production
Consumption
Shipments

Domestic Shipments

Loading and Unloading by Alternative Routes/Modes and by Ports, Seaboard Outlets and Markets (Establishments, Provinces) of origin and destination

Trade/ International Shipments

Loading (Exports) and Unloading (Imports) by alternative Routes/Modes and by Ports, Seaboard Outlets and Markets (Provinces/States, Countries, World Regions and Continents) of origin and destination.

SYSTEM FEATURES AND CHARACTERISTICS

The system presented in this paper is composed of six (6) major modules based on the modular structural design described earlier. The figure below shows the Main Menu with its modules and sub-modules.

COMFIS’ modules, sub-modules and objects (elements and variables) can be classified as follows:

Definitions Module

Definitions, classification of objects/groups (elements and variables) and sources of information used in COMFIS

Commodities Module

Agriculture Products
Forest Products
Mining Products
Manufacturing Products

Modes Module

Marine
Rail
Trucking
Pipeline
Aviation
Other

Routes Module

Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway (GL-SLS)
Panama Canal
Suez Canal
Grain Routes
Iron Ore Routes
Coal Routes
Steel Routes
Other Routes

Ports Module

Location
Profile
Port Traffic
Distance and Time between Ports
Contacts

Markets Module

Establishment
Province/State
Country
World Region
Continent

To be characterized as efficient and user’s friendly the system satisfies the following criteria:

OUTPUT

Following is an example that demonstrates the type and scope of information that can be obtained from COMFIS. Assuming we want to start by getting information about the most important commodity X shipped between Canada and/or the U.S. and Country C. (Please see Figure below).


CONCLUSION

In a rapidly changing competitive transportation environment, comprehensive and efficient freight traffic data and forecasts are vital for strategic planning and development in the transportation industry. To remain competitive in today’s complex, sophisticated and dynamic global trade system, an understanding of present and potential future commodity flow through alternative transportation routes and modes, can make the difference between the success or failure of a transportation business.

The complexity of the transportation system, the unavailability of comprehensive, logically organized and harmonized information on commodity flows at reasonable cost, make this task difficult. A solution to this problem is to develop and use innovative and knowledgeable computerized systems that provide comprehensive information on commodity flows at optimum costs.

A market research and productivity tool should be dynamic, evolving with time in order to reflect the needs and requirements of the transportation industry. Technically, these systems are expected to become more efficient in terms of performance and cost-effectiveness by taking advantages of the continual development in software and hardware technologies. The impact of information systems such as COMFIS on the transportation industry is considerable. The scope and type of information that can be provided, its wide applications, the ease of use and access to information at optimum maintenance and costs, make it an ideal tool for budget conscious managers and professionals seeking efficiency in a modern competitive transportation industry.


DEFINITIONS OF TERMS USED IN THIS PAPER

Commodity Flow

Commodity flow is the process related to commodity movements through alternative modes and routes between the centres of production and consumption. In COMFIS the commodity flow process is represented by several object groups each of which is composed of objects that represent the transportation elements and variables.

Traffic Analysis and Forecasting

Traffic analysis and Forecasting is a function, as defined in this paper, encompassing the following stages and activities that are vital to a sound Policy and Business Decision Making.

Inventory Development

Gathering of data and information
Harmonizing information and data from various sources
Organizing data and information into logical structure

Developing knowledge Data Base Information System

Analysis

Market research
Regional Analysis
Industrial Complex Analysis
Cost-Benefit Analysis
System Analysis
Route Modal Choice Analysis

Forecasting

Macro-Economics
Commodity Supply and Demand
Commodity Flow Forecasts
Traffic Forecasts
Impact and Sensitivity Analysis

Policy and Business Decision Making


REFERENCES AND SOURCES OF INFORMATION

Agriculture Canada
American Iron and Steel Institute, U.S.
Canada Grains Council
Canada Ports Corporation
Canadian Grain Commission
Canadian Wheat Board
Energy Mines and Resources Canada
Ghonima, H. The Seaway Economic Planning System (SEPS-CMP), CTRF, Jasper, Alberta, Canada 1984. Institute for Iron and Steel Studies, U.S.
International Monetary Fund (IMF)
International Wheat Council (IWC)
Iron Ore Association, U.S.
Lake Carriers' Association, U.S.
Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
Shipping Federation of Canada, (the)
St. Lawrence Seaway Authority, (the), Canada
Statistics Canada
Skillings Mining Review, U.S.
TAF Consultants, Canada
Transport Canada
U.S. Dept. of Agriculture
U.S. Dept. of Army Corps of Engineers
U.S. Dept. of Commerce
U.S. Dept. of Energy
U.S. Dept. of Mines
U.S. Dept. of Transportation
United Nations (UN)
World Bank
Microsoft Windows is a trade mark of Microsoft Corporation.


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Copyright 1997 TAF Consultants™. All rights reserved.
Information in this document is secured from sources believed reliable and due care is taken in preparation, but accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed. The opinions expressed in this paper are not necessarily the opinions TAF Consultants. Other products and companies referred to herein are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective companies or mark holders.
Revised: January 09, 2005