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IT student helps automate Ports of Auckland

Tuesday, 11 July 2006

MIT information technology student delivers manuals to help automate Ports of Auckland shipping processes

Imported used cars travel a long way to reach their new owners in New Zealand, but thanks to Sandhya Prasad the final leg of that arduous journey is set to become a whole lot simpler.

As the final-year practical project for her Bachelor of Information Systems degree at Manukau Institute of Technology, Sandhya developed a set of user manuals for a new software system that Ports of Auckland will use to plan and record vehicle movements on and off its wharves.

The software, called VENUS (Vehicle Entry User System), has been developed by Auckland-based Sandfield Associates and is designed to manage the import and export of used vehicles through New Zealand ports.

As sponsor of the system, Ports of Auckland will be the first port to use VENUS, although it will also be made available to other ports, along with Sandhya’s manuals.

This is a great achievement for Sandhya, who was initially tasked with documenting a user manual for just one component of VENUS, Yard Planner, which is used to graphically plan where vehicles are to be parked upon their discharge, and to display their actual locations on the wharves as they are parked and moved over time.

However, Sandhya was given the opportunity to document the user manuals for other components of VENUS which were still under development. She also became by default a test resource as she familiarised herself with the system in order to understand and document the user manuals.

Sandfield project manager David Miller says when Sandhya began her project with the company, Yard Planner was the only completed module of VENUS.

But, as this application was not big enough to provide Sandhya with the required hours for her MIT project, she was challenged to document manuals for other VENUS modules that were still evolving.

Rising to the challenge, Sandhya agreed to document user manuals for four VENUS modules, including administrator and security components.

Because VENUS was still being developed, Sandhya was working in an ever-changing and fluid environment, but took this in her stride, says David.

“In an ideal world, documenting user manuals is undertaken in a stable and tested environment. However, reflecting reality, Sandhya’s deliverables were on a tighter schedule, requiring her to be adaptable and smart to achieve her goals,” says David.

In addition to these tasks, Sandhya also became the default usability tester of the Venus system during its development phase, as she approached the application from a user’s perspective. This enhanced the value of her input into the project even further, says David.

“She was not only able to identify bugs, but she also provided valuable feedback on usability to the development team enabling them to improve the system accordingly.”

The user manuals Sandhya produced will form a key part of the overall training programme to VENUS end-users. “Through her efforts, Sandhya has broken the back of the labour-intensive activities required to pull together user manuals that will be components of the overall training programme.”

Throughout the project Sandhya impressed the Sandfield team with her patience, strong time management skills, determination and ability to grasp the complex system.

Although the project was challenging from start to finish, Sandhya says the experience gave her a thorough understanding of how IT systems work in a real-life environment.

“It was challenging as I was expected to deliver the manuals quickly and professionally, so I was always focused on producing quality documents.”

It has also given her confidence in her ability to become a technical writer. “I am now confident I can be a technical writer and can build documentation on any system.”

Sandhya, who hails from Fiji, but lives in Papatoetoe, will continue to work at Sandfield as the company prepares to roll out VENUS.

She is one of a group of MIT Bachelor of Information Systems students who completed their studies this month after presenting reports on their practical projects.

The MIT Bachelor of Information Systems degree programme provides students with the appropriate academic theory and applied skills to become professionals in the information systems field.

People already employed in the IT industry can enrol in single papers from the degree to update and expand their skills.

MIT is taking enrolments for the degree, as well as other computing and IT qualifications, with classes starting this month. For more information contact MIT on
0800 62 62 52, or visit


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