AI Success Stories

HIT Logo HIT: Staff Rostering

hk international terminals - staff rostering

Project Summary:

  • client: Hong Kong International Terminals Limited
  • application: container yard staff rostering
  • AI technology: constraint programming


Rostering technology provided by CityU helps the Hong Kong International Terminals Limited improve staff utilization and productivity. With close to a thousand workers to schedule and manage, HIT needed to better match worker availability with predicted daily workload. A flexi-shift policy combined with advanced AI optimization algorithms makes this all possible.

Using HR optimization software combined with a flexi-shift system, the Hong Kong International Terminals was able to improve its work efficiency and productivity by over 30%.

Our Client

Hong Kong International Terminals (HIT) was established in 1969 and is one of the major container port operators in Hong Kong.

Throughout the years, the container port business in Hong Kong is known as the busiest in the world. In 1995, it handled a total of 12.6 million 20-foot Equivalent Units (TEUs). By 2011, Hong Kong will be handling 32 million TEUs annually - 1 TEU every second non-stop.

Business Needs

Although there are plans to increase the capacity of the port with additional terminals, the current terminals are already close to full capacity. Under such high demands, it became increasingly critical and complicated to manage the allocation and productivity of valuable resources such as the equipment, workers, operators, berth, yard, and cranes in daily operations.

One of the largest quantities of resources in the container yard is the laborers and workers. HIT had close to a thousand workers working in fixed shifts in 1996. Unfortunately, the shifts might not always match the shipping schedules that represented workload demands. This caused a lot of worker idle time and hence low productivity.

In 1996, we provided consultancy and development services to help solve this optimization problem.

AI Technology

Working with McKenzie consultants, we designed an AI optimization system to forecast, schedule and manage container yard workers. The system is used to support a new flexi-shift policy that was being implemented at that time.

A flexi-shift policy means the starting time and duration of work for each person may vary from day to day based on predicted workload. Given the computational complexity of a flexi-shift system, an automated scheduling system was needed.

Our AI optimization system supplements the HR management system and efficiently manages close to a thousand yard-workers. Our proprietary AI Rostering Engine uses advanced optimization algorithms combined with constraint programming techniques to automatically produces weekly and monthly rosters within minutes. The rosters were produced based on domain knowledge of how container terminals in Hong Kong operate. This include operational and business rules and constraints; shipment schedules; as well as historical workload information. The AI Rostering Engine was implemented totally in C++ for maximum performance.

Business Benefits

By accurately determining real needs based on predicted business volume and container vessel schedules, we were able to produce a better match of staff availability with workload demands. After implementing the new flexi-shift system, the container yard was able to achieve over 30% increase in work efficiency and productivity!

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