This is the first in a series of four articles on the Port of Antwerp, and how it uses Confluence and Comalatech apps to manage its documents and processes.

Port of Antwerp keeps things moving thanks to a knowledge base built on Confluence and Comalatech apps. Europe’s second largest port found itself looking for a knowledge base platform that could connect its 1600 team members with the many software and instruction manuals needed to carry out their work. This documentation required robust tools for content creation, and an easy way for users to find the answers they’re looking for. The Port chose Confluence for their platform, and two apps from Comalatech to manage their document approvals and publishing.

Port of Antwerp

With over 238 million tonnes of freight passing through each year, the Port of Antwerp is a crossroads of global supply chains and a major contributor to the Belgian economy. Thanks to its position 80 kilometres inland, it offers a uniquely fast and sustainable connection to much of Europe. The Port is also a place of innovation, bringing cutting-edge technologies like smart devices, drones and blockchain to bear on logistical challenges. With thousands of vessels, trains and trucks moving through each day and over 143,000 people working in and around the Port, it takes skilful collaboration to keep everyone working together. 

Creating a Knowledge Base in Confluence

It’s no surprise then that the Port of Antwerp has a fair bit documentation, and this includes the large internal knowledge base that serves its employees. The knowledge base hosts manuals and instructions for the software used by the Port, including Microsoft Office, IBM Maximo and various in-house applications. As an added challenge, these manuals had to be made available in Dutch and in language that non-technical users could understand. This meant that the Port couldn’t rely on documentation created by the software developers, but had to write their own instructions. To organize this huge repository, the Port needed a platform that could deliver document creation, storage and sharing all at once.

To find this platform, the team began exploring different knowledge base solutions. After trying other wiki modules that proved too basic, they settled on Atlassian’s Confluence as their solution in 2013. Confluence is a content collaboration platform, which allows teams to create, edit and share knowledge. The Port’s knowledge base started small, but grew quickly as more and more users got on board, and other departments began using Confluence for their own work. Within two years, they expanded from a 100 user license, to a 2000 user license covering all employees. Today, the knowledge base contains several hundred pages and is used by the entire organization.

The knowledge base exists in two spaces, a draft space used for page creation and editing, and a published space that is available to all employees (more on that later). Each software manual within the space has its own parent page, with child pages laying out various sub-topics and instructions. For example, in the manual for Confluence itself, there is a page with instructions on how to create a page, and another on how to name a page. The team separated these instructions out to make use of one of the other features of Confluence – integration with Jira Service Desk, Atlassian’s customer service platform. Employees can use Jira Service Desk to search the knowledge base and find precise answers to their questions. This granular approach also allows the knowledge workers to make changes easily.

Managing Content Creation and Distribution

As other departments became familiar with Confluence, they became interested in using it not only for storing documents, but also for managing work itself. With so many pages in their own space, the knowledge base team also saw the need for a page approval process, and a way to make sure their readers had access to only the latest versions. The departments experimented with manual workflows using native Confluence features like tasks and mentions. As these quickly became too complex and unwieldy, the knowledge workers began looking for an add-on that could create more streamlined workflows, and finally chose Comala Document Management and Comala Publishing. Comala Document Management allows users to add customizable review and approval workflows to Confluence, while Comala Publishing provides the functionality to easily copy one space to another.

In the Port’s knowledge base, pages are created in the Draft Space, which is restricted to the small team of knowledge workers. Once a page has been approved, it is copied to the Published Space that is available to the entire company. The knowledge base workflow starts when a page is created, and sets the page to a ‘draft’ state. Once the page creator has written the document, they have three options:

  1. Ready for Publication – An intermediate state for when the team needs to ask a subject expert to check the page before it is published. The expert can review the page and then publish it when ready.
  2. Published – The page can be published right away if no further review is necessary. This automatically copies the document to the Published Space.
  3. Not to be Published – The team can choose not to publish the page, which keeps it in the Draft Space for internal use. This is used for pages with guidelines for the knowledge workers themselves.

If a page is edited later on, the latest approved version remains in the Published Space, while the version in the Draft Space returns to the ‘draft’ state, ready for another round of approvals. Finally, the workflow has a 1-year expiry timer, which prompts the team to review each page after a year, and make sure it is still up-to-date.

An example workflow with three publishing options.

The knowledge base team has also used Comala Document Management to add messages to the top of pages which describe what the current state means and what the next step is in the approval process. These messages are controlled using the workflow, so they do not appear if the page is exported out of Confluence.

With a large organization encompassing many different departments, the Port of Antwerp has created a knowledge base that is easy to manage, widely accessible, and up-to-date. In our next article we’ll go over an innovative solution created by the Port to train their employees in Confluence.