Tug Boat

McAllister Towing and 

Transportation Co.

Description: McAllister Towing is one of the oldest and largest marine towing and transportation companies in the United States, operating a fleet of more than 70 tugboats in 13 ports along the entire North American East Coast from Portland, ME to San Juan, PR. In each port, McAllister is engaged in ship docking, general harbor towing, coastal towing and bulk transportation servicing more than 600 major steamship companies.


Challenge: McAllister was faced with issues common to harbor service companies who have grown through acquisition of multiple ports. Some of their challenges included:

  1. Operating with a legacy dispatch and invoicing system built by a third party vendor that was no longer available to maintain their source code or provide it to them.
  2. Managing multiple tariffs and customer contracts manually from multiple geographically dispersed ports.  This caused invoicing errors and delays in billing due to time needed to review and ensure invoices are correct. Previously, producing an invoice could take up to 1 month because of billing errors holding up the process. 

Even with an extended period of invoice detail review that McAllister went through previously, they were faced with a high proportion of invoices coming back. This would result in a high number of rebills and credit notes. This added overhead and time delays to their invoicing process, and resulted in slower cash flows.

  1. Head office had poor data visibility into the individual operations at a global, regional, and port level. Because invoicing was not centralized, analyzing operational data was a difficult and time-consuming process.
  2. Staff resistance to change was identified as a potential pitfall to this legacy software replacement project.

The Solution: Helm was chosen as the preferred vendor because the Helm Dispatch Manager™ was already proven successful within competitor operations. The solution was to centralize billing at head office by connecting all ports to the central Helm server in New York. The tariff management tool was to be used to help audit and standardize billing parameters. The intent was to have an automated billing calculation tool that the company could trust to reduce invoice errors and billing latency. Because all operational data would flow from the ports back to one central server, reporting could also be centralized for upper management.  Helm would also configure the billing system to McAllister’s complex variable tariff and negotiation model, giving McAllister the flexibility to carry on with business as usual.


Outcome: As a direct result of implementing Helm Dispatch Manager, McAllister was able to solve all of their challenges including additional unexpected benefits. Helm is now operational in all ports, invoicing is going out faster, and upper management have the information they need to make better business decisions. The results have been impressive and include, but are not limited to, the following:

"We chose the Helm system because of their experience with multi-port ship docking operations, and their willingness to tailor their system to our specific needs as part of their customization process. They also changed the user interface to closely match our old system, which greatly reduced our training costs for such a dispersed user group. This is not common practice but we requested it as part of our change control process. With that said we could not be happier with Helm's customer service."
- Andrew McAllister, McAllister Towing and Transportation

  • Automation of their complex multi-divisional tariff and contracts has resulted in improved cash flow. They now have confidence in the reliability of Helm and invoices have a 24-hour turn-around time, as opposed to the previous turn-around of up to 3-5 business days.
  • This cash flow improvement could only be achieved by an improvement of billing detail quality.  Invoices now go to the customer the day after the job was completed.  The helm tariff calculation engine gave them the added piece-of-mind that their invoices are correct.  Because of the improved quality they don’t require the lengthy process of going back to a port, tracking down the person responsible for the billing, and figuring out how to apply a correct rate. A year after go-live, and 5000+ invoices later, they have only had a hand full of invoices that needed changes.
  • Credits and rebills were greatly reduced thereby improving the efficiency and accuracy of the billing process.
  • Managing tariffs is much easier now. Because of the flexibility of helm’s tariff management system, they have new freedom when changing or negotiating tariffs and contracts in various ports. Escalating new tariffs is easy because of the ability to add contracts, special terms, and agreed rates to a customer. It’s as easy as adding one line within a contract opposed to previous methods, which would require entirely new rate tables. Most importantly, changing a tariff is managed by McAllister and no longer requires the assistance of programmers.  A simple increase to a tariff needed a 6-month window it is now done in 6 weeks.
  • A local government petroleum tax previously was taking one person 6 hours per day to manually look at the jobs to figure out the tax payments. This was a huge burden on the billing department because it was preventing them from focusing on their core purpose of getting invoices out. This is tax calculation is now done automatically by Helm, and the billing people can focus on getting billing out faster, more accurately, and dealing with anomalies.
  • Management now has global visibility into their operations. Operational and billing data is consolidated at head office in real-time. They can view their information in numerous ways using the Helm reporting engine.