Dubai-based ports operator DP World is harnessing disruptive technologies in a bid to strengthen its logistics infrastructure and diversifying its portfolio to better serve the dynamic trade needs of its customers and partners.
Technological innovations have been taking place at the company for more than a decade but Mike Bhaskaran, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Technology Officer at DP World, who took charge in less than two years, is revving up the digital transformation to deliver safer, faster, efficient and more sustainable solutions.
“When I started in the middle of last year, we saw an opportunity for back-office automation. We chose Oracle Fusion ERP as a platform to build consistency across our multiple geographies. We are slowly deploying it across our global operations,” he said.
It is extremely important to bring balance between finance and procurement systems across its infrastructure in more than 40 countries, he said, so, they can talk the same language and that was the beginning of the journey.
Primarily, he said the company’s customers are liners and freight forwarders and if “we can make their jobs easier in exchanging data, ease of access to data and providing a seamless integration as things move, physical goods as well as data goods, will help the financial flow as well.”
Technology, in many senses, he said has reduced the number of moves in the yard and on-time delivery to the customers to make it easier for them through a wide array of applications.
“Our goal is to make it easy to move goods in multiple countries with a click of a button,” he said.
Subsequently, Bhaskaran’s focus shifted to the office products, office automation and moving to the cloud, providing solutions to accelerate the flow of goods through its ports and services.
“For us, being a global trade enabler, we focused on terminal operating systems for ease of access (how quickly people can come to our ports), movement of containers, billing, collaborate with our customers and provide customer-centric solutions.
“The centre of the digital transformation is the customer. How we can provide ease of access and do our work better to service them and provide solutions for them,” he said.
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Box-Bay Storage to ease traffic congestion
DP World has been a pioneer in working with the US-based Navis for terminal operating systems and is at the forefront of technological innovation such as Hyperloop and Box-Bay Storage.
DP World had signed a partnership with Virgin Hyperloop One in 2018 to revolutionise transportation of people and goods.
Bhaskaran said that Box-Bay Storage, which can stack 11 containers vertically, can shuffle containers whenever needed and reduce space and will go live by the end of this year.
“Now, we cannot put a full-loaded container on top of an empty container but with Box-Bay storage, it can. An automated system can then retrieve each without moving any others. The main objective of this initiative is to reduce traffic congestion within terminals for container movement,” he said.
Even though DP World does not currently use physical robots, he said that they use robotic process automation (chatbots) for tasks.
“We don’t infuse technology for the sake of technology and it all depends on where the applications are required and then buy the best technology. We use Oracle CRM for a specific purpose and SAP Hana for report riding and in some cases; we have built it in-house and have our terminal operating system, known as Zodiac,” he said.
Moreover, he said that the cloud is a journey and they have moved most of the division’s emails to the cloud – Microsoft Office 365 – and some SaaS [software as a service] platforms are already in the cloud.
However, Bhaskaran is not off the view that everything should be up in the cloud and it all depends on applications by applications where they want to use it.
“In some cases, we want the apps to be on-prem and it is important when it comes to safety and customer importance. We have just started to use blockchain and will start some pilot projects very soon, primarily in using documentation exchange and supply chain, and we are building new use cases,” he said.
Bhaskaran said that the digital journey has begun globally and everyone is excited.
Leveraging blockchain technologies
“In the next two to three years, a lot of the new tools and new processes we are developing right now will be on our entire network. The document exchange, by leveraging blockchain, and creating smart contracts will be a huge opportunity for the logistics sector,” Bhaskaran said.
For a digital transformation to succeed, he said the culture is an essential factor in attracting, developing and retaining digital talent inside the organisation and talent is the number one challenge in digital transformations, globally and locally.
But Bhaskaran said that DP World has a very “innovative culture”.
“Staff is always looking for new ways to improve our customer experience and it was very positive. Out of all the technological opportunities and business processes, what we use has to be the best fit for our customers. As we have a lot of automation and documentation, we figured out that blockchain solutions will help us solve the problem. So, the culture was innovative and receptive.
“The change management aspect of the culture was very warm and receiving. It was a very collegial culture as a company and then the question was when we have a good business case, everyone was receptive and doing the right thing for the customer,” he said.
Moreover, he said that there is a culture of learning inside the company and latent capacity inside the organisation itself was high.
“Most of the staff is using new tools such as mapping and visualisation, and there is a tremendous appetite to learn and it is inherent in the culture. I didn’t have to do anything as that was the best part of my job,” he said.
Furthermore, he said that the primary focus this year will be on back-office automation, blockchain-backed technologies and advancing terminal operating systems.
“It is a journey and a tremendous amount of work needs to be done in the next three years,” he said.
Despite being at the forefront of innovation, DP World does not want to rest on its laurels and are always looking at innovative companies worldwide that can spark innovation for them, either in IoT devices, blockchain, AI and other advanced technologies.
The company is working with an Indian technology accelerator platform for logistics - Log-X - both in Kerala and different parts of India looking for new technologies and startups coming in to help the ecosystem they have.
“We have met several companies and they are doing good work in fleet automation, trucks automation and which are good for us in our digital journey. Innovation will play a strong role in building an integrated logistics platform which offers end-to-end solutions for cargo owners,” he said.