THE terminal operations planning system (TOPS) developed and used by Hong Kong International Terminals (HIT) is one of five finalists selected for a Computerworld Smithsonian Award in the transportation category this year. According to Rachel Pong, HIT's general manager of information technology, HIT is the only company outside the United States to make it to the finals in this category. TOPS is a resource-planning application that ensures optimum use of berths and container yard space. After tracking each ship 14 days before its arrival, TOPS suggests the most conveniently located berth and a preferred area of the yard to accommodate containers to be loaded. The system can essentially balance competing objectives, such as keeping berths as full as possible while avoiding a queue of ships in the South China Sea. Faced with growth in container throughput, HIT has to maintain its competitiveness through technology breakthroughs. Developed over a period of 15 months, TOPS was implemented in January 1991 and has proved to be an important contribution to HIT's current position as the world's largest private container port operator. The Computerworld Smithsonian awards began six years ago to recognise outstanding contributions to information technology.