More Transparent Invoicing

New Software Modernizes Container Invoicing at HHLA

In the Port of Hamburg, thousands of containers are waiting to be processed and billed quickly and efficiently. IT plays a central role in ensuring smooth digital invoicing procedures. Modern software that automates invoicing processes, collects and processes invoicing data for each individual container and transmits it electronically to customers ensures efficient invoicing in container handling. Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG (HHLA) uses a billing interface created in ABAP, based on SAP SD, which was developed internally in collaboration with Lufthansa Industry Solutions (LHIND).

Services LHIND provides HHLA at a glance:
  • Set-up and management of an agile project using Scrum Master
  • Development of an interface to the N4 port control system using SAP ABAP, so as to prepare the accounting data for SAP SD
  • Customization of the SAP SD standard module
  • Setting up the invoicing processes in SAP SD
  • Settings for archiving the billing data
  • Creation of the billing forms using Adobe Forms
  • Support in ongoing day-to-day business and strategic partnership after implementation

The Customer

Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG (HHLA) is a leading European port and transport logistics group. Its core business activities comprise both container handling in seaports and container transport between ports, the rest of Germany and mainland Europe. Moreover, HHLA offers a wide range of port, consultancy and other services. As real estate specialists, the members of the HHLA team are experts in the development of attractive office, commercial and logistics properties in Hamburg.

More than 6,300 employees work for HHLA and its subsidiaries, both at home in Germany and abroad. In collaboration with their customers, they develop logistics and digital hubs along the transport flows of the future using innovative technology and sustainable solutions.


The Challenge

HHLA Container handling (©HHLA / Thies Rätzke)

As Europe’s leading port and transport logistics group, HHLA manages the arrival and delivery of shipping containers by rail, by lorry and on barges, as well as the temporary storage of containers in the terminals. This involves moving containers in the order of 7.6 million TEU (Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit) per year, the invoicing for which has to be completed promptly. In order to invoice this quantity of containers efficiently and with minimal manual effort, the existing systems used for container invoicing have to be replaced. The aim is to implement up-to-date software that automates HHLA’s billing processes and establishes electronic invoicing as the new standard. To achieve this, it was necessary to harmonize other processes, e.g. empty container management, transshipment marking and ship data maintenance. One of the requirements for digitalizing the billing and invoicing processes was the future ability to collect, process and transmit data for each individual container. This will make invoicing more transparent and create a comprehensive database for electronic billing, which will also enable customers to be flexible in how they incorporate the invoicing data they are sent into their own invoice receipt systems, or to connect automated processes here.

To achieve this, the old high-maintenance system was replaced with the standard SAP SD (Sales and Distribution) module and a pre-billing module – developed in-house – based on SAP ABAP.

Reintroducing the new N4 terminal control system at the same time posed a particular challenge. This system defined the new target processes for transferring the necessary performance data to the container billing project, for which close coordination and repeated adjustments to the project were necessary. For the project to succeed, all HHLA departments – such as Sales, Finance, IT Infrastructure and SAP – had to be involved in all steps from the get-go and communication had to be open. Sprint planning in this agile project was performed using JIRA as an error management, problem handling and operational project management platform.

Tools and techniques used:
  • SAP SD (Sales and Distribution)
  • Adobe Forms
  • Jira

The Solution

HHLA and Lufthansa Industry Solutions used an agile project methodology for the container invoicing digitalization project. Supported by LHIND’s reliable IT expertise, the plan is to implement SAP SD and thereby increase container billing efficiency, automate billing processes as far as possible and, as a medium-term goal, harmonize the entire billing landscape within the group. To do so, LHIND set up customized invoicing processes in SAP SD, creating invoice templates in Adobe Forms and improving the settings for archiving billing data.

When it came to developing the interface (based on SAP ABAP) with the N4 control system, which provides the performance data in the port, LHIND’s experience in SAP software development projects stood HHLA in good stead.

As a Hamburg-based company, LHIND is not only highly familiar with the logistics processes in the port – they also bring additional experience in agile project management to the table. LHIND assumed responsibility for the technical project management. In cooperation with HHLA and using Scrum, all relevant HHLA employees were kept up to date with partial results early on in the sprint planning phase. The collaboration was, therefore, based on good communication, building trust and learning together.

Upon completion of the project, LHIND continues to provide HHLA with daily support in their ongoing operations. In addition, they agreed on a strategic partnership to further the group strategy of expanding the use of SAP in the company by adding further modules. The next steps planned in this regard are, for example, GDPR-compliant adaptation of the SAP HR system and the introduction of a source-to-pay platform that will bundle tendering and procurement projects together. As part of an employee leasing arrangement, LHIND also supports HHLA in maintaining SAP authorizations in the group, as well as in creating and adapting invoice templates in SAP.

Benefits for the customer

The purpose of the project was to digitalize the billing processes using SAP SD and introduce electronic invoicing as the new standard for container invoicing at HHLA. It standardized a system that previously had to differentiate between HHLA customers who were already set up for receiving digital invoices themselves and those who were still operating on a system of receiving paper invoices in the mail. The latter group provided the impetus for addressing the necessary and timely digitalization of invoicing processes.

The increased level of automation in container invoicing makes billing significantly faster, more efficient and more transparent. Instead of creating invoices that covered entire ships, as has been the practice before, invoicing is now performed based on individual containers. Invoicing and billing of services rendered in the port is carried out promptly using the N4 control system interface, which is based on SAP ABAP, and CBS (proprietary software for two terminals). Invoicing now requires fewer manual steps, which makes the process less prone to errors. If ambiguities nevertheless arise, errors can be analyzed and corrected more quickly, as data is now collected uniformly.

Benefits LHIND provided to HHLA at a glance:
  • Increased efficiency – timely invoicing in container handling
  • Modernized, automated and standardized billing processes using SAP SD
  • SAP ABAP interface enables the quick transfer of services rendered to the billing system
  • Improvement in usability, facilitating easy error analysis and correction
  • Changeover to modern electronic invoicing, as requested by many HHLA customers

“In implementing SAP SD, we achieved our goal of largely automating container billing and establishing electronic invoicing as a new standard. However, what really made this project stand out was a clear vision for the future, sensible project goals and a good technical concept, made possible by HHLA’s excellent collaboration with LHIND, who created excellent, modern processes with an agile mindset, a high level of expertise, enthusiasm for the project and joy in performing the work. In my view, this joint flow effect, which has lasted well into the post-go-live support, is the difference that took this project to the next level.”

Karin Auling
Invoicing Manager, Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG (HHLA)

In the end, not only was the original budget met, but the original schedule was undercut by more than a year.