The need to build a standard model is necessary to ensure levels of portability, interoperability and manageability. It starts with having the best people, then having standardised processes around the globe, to then making customers aware and wanting to grow together. Because the more a company grows with its customers, the more opportunities it can provide. Ritesh S Ramakrishnan, Joint Managing Director, Transworld Group informs Ajeet Kumar, on their quest to digitally transform the industry by incorporating new emerging technologies, as they move forward on their digital journey to change the whole paradigm and climb higher on customer’s value chain.

Can you just give us an update on your company’s operations at the moment and what you expect this year?

In the verybeginning of the year, our volumes were strong. Just around the time when the virus started to spread out of China, considering our wide geographical spread, we felt the fresh jolts of the pandemic because we are close to the epicenter.

The direct impact of the pandemic was a huge drop in business and volumes, thanks to the lockdown in other countries. As we have our network in Middle East, India, Southeast Asia and the US, so it was actually one after the other countries going into lockdown. In that sense, we knew what was coming. Having said that, the way things looks like at present, I still believe that we have seen the worst and things will start moving up from here.

A lot of volumes which we lost early April and during May now seems to be back and slowly moving upwards. If we divide our business, as a vessel owner and operator, we have all of them deployed currently including our bulk carriers and container carriers, as the bulk and chartered container markets are slowly reviving. However, the regular volumes that we carry cross-border are still bottom down.

On the logistics and warehousing front, initially, we faced issues asimporters were not able to take the delivery of shipments and that supply chains were slower due to lockdown enforcement in regions. Now, we are seeing a customer confidence turnaround.

Do you already seesigns of recovery on the horizon?

I am positive that we have overcome the worst; we can see volumes rising upgradually. But, we keep reminding ourselves that we are still in a state of ‘cautious optimism’, considering what is happening around us…everything possible has been done, and the world keeps fighting through this challenging times. We can only hope that things stabilise soon and we return to better normalcy.

What is the situation at private ports today regarding container movement?

Much better in June/July as what it was in April/May.

When we were going into the lockdown, the ports, port workers, ship crew, everyone had to turn up to facilitate the flow of essential commodities and EXIM trade.

Initially, there was a lot of chaos and confusion at the private and government-led ports. Despite the port sector being considered an essential service and continuing to remain operational during the lockdown, there was been an adverse impact on the cargo at the start of the lockdown. This was on account of several factors like subdued global trade, contraction in domestic industrial activity due to lockdown and logistics bottlenecks impacting evacuation of cargo from the ports, especially by road.

Amid a shortage of workers to unload and transport goods, due to the nationwide lockdown, all the country’s ports were choked up. We cannot blame the government for all of that. The crisis was completely unprecedented and nobody knew how to deal with it.

So yes, we had challenges previously, but for the overall business, we saw positive improvements in the volumes handled through these ports. Currently, the ports are beginning to ease the backlog of vessels and containers that had congested the premises.

Customs has facilitated electronic movement of documentation, is it working well?

It is definitely a good move, something that was long overdue. We had multiple issues in the past due to lack of IT-enabled protocols and speed over a given medium. Also there was little impetus to the establishment of such infrastructure from the previous governments. I think shipping and trade were only talked about and nothing much was done. Today, we see a government that has actually come forward and made things easier, in line with the buzzword ‘Ease of Doing Business’.

To support the movement of essential goods and commodities through Customs, the government allowed importers and customs brokers to give electronic out of charge copies of bill of entry and e-Gate Pass from April 15. The latest reform towards paperless customs to a great extent helped tide over difficulties during the COVID 19 pandemic spread by reducing interface or contact with authorities.

When you have these kinds of initiatives at place, it becomes evident that the government is trying to do as much as possible to reduce manual work and help tackle the scourge of COVID-19. First and foremost, the industry has to step up, the industry has to realise that they can’t move away from technology which actually make things easier for customers. If we are part of a larger objective, it’s just not about one or two persons or entities, everyone stakeholder has to play their part.

Can you describe your company’s own supply chain contingency plans and how the company has helped clients in times like these?

I guess we are lucky here. Before them COVID situation took over, we were already working on our digital transformation project with Oracle. We were in the midst of going live with the deals, it’s not just one business or one vertical, but across the entire supply chain, through all the products and services that we offer like NVOCC, fleet management, shipping, warehousing, cold chain, etc.

From day one, we had zero downturn; customers had all the required information as we were working like any normal day. Our digital initiatives such as online freight portal, shipment tracking on mobile as well as portal, online Bill of Lading (BL), accepting online payments, updating shipments status on WhatsApp, digital signatures in BL invoices, online quotes with real-time update of tariffs,have eliminated manual intervention and introduced far advanced operational efficiencies. Combining Oracle backend and our own technology and expertise, we have been able to implement the best practices. We are trying to be vocal as possible and this has allowed us to empower our employees to deliver heightened service satisfaction even during the crisis.

We have people working round the clock 24×7, whether at the front lines or at the backend. At every single point, we have been able to effectively communicate and create value for our customers and vendors. Be it a third party agency or a vessel, we handled every source, every asset diligently. The entire team stepped up together to support the business.

Could you give us a practical example of a hurdle which the industry is facing due to lack of standardisation?

The entire industry had to understand the notion of excelling together. In general, the idea of standardisation is somewhere linked to technology. Simply put, if you are more standardised, you are able to bring forth improved performance, collaborate and contribute to standard procedures of operating.

Now more than ever, reliance on legacy systems is one of the biggest hurdles in the digital transformation journey. Essentially, the industry has to realise that the way forward is standardisation and that can only happen by embracing IT-enabled progression, helping one’s businesses flourish faster and smoother. The advent of IoT and the cloud have certainly altered the way people work, creating new workflows.

Today, fortunately, we see lot of changes in the country, and logistics and supply chain is no exception.

What are the major markets you cater to and which specific domains you operate within? Any new business vertical you look to start with?

We are an Indian origin company, although we have made a home in the Middle East. 60 per cent of our business originates from India. So our backbone and backyard is in India where wedeliverto around 3,000 pin codes. Here, in the Middle East, we have presence in 30 different cities. Basically, we cover different industry sectors, from food and beverage, chemical, and retail, and this contributes to the overall business.

On the shipping side, we own and operate largely container ships under Transworld Feeders and Shreyas Shipping and Logistics. We also have fleet of multiple bulk carriers and multipurpose ships. We operate them as chartered ships under Transworld Bulk Carriers. As far as our multimodal logistics business is concerned, the largest part of it is regional coastal under Avana Logistek, and international liner business under Avana Global.

Another vertical where we are advancing since a decade is supply chain and 3PL business. We are involved in air and sea transportation, trucking, warehousing, cold chain, Customs clearances, documentation, end-to-end logistics, etc. The most recent business vertical on which we are excessively focussing since the last couple of years is agencies for international foreign operators. In India, we are represent lot of vessel owners, technical management, crew management, bulk handling, etc.

At Transworld, do you involve any external partners like digital innovators or startups to help you implement the new standards and bring in innovation?

For us as an organisation, involving external partners has a fairly relative importance across the supply chain of our operations. It is something that we do as an initiative, not only for us but for our customers, vendors, partnersand for the entire ecosystem that rely on us.

Our digital transformation project ‘Innovation in Motion’ is driven by Oracle India and KPIT Technologies. Oracle has provided the cloud-based technology platformand KPIT has been the implementation partner.

Innovation requires a rigorous process. It starts by generating ideas, but the hard work is in prioritising, categorising, gathering data, testing and refactoring. For example, before we approached Oracle, we had discussions with several stakeholders, software providers, industry people and our customers. Personally, I had multiple chats with associate and colleagues I have known and shared a close connection for years and years. Most significantly, we had an entire process to evaluate, so it took us around 15 months to come up with the final assessment.

Today, we offer the kind of platform that is highly customer centric. We have a fairly strong and young team and that also helps when it comes to reaching out to the industry. Of course, there’s no point in doing something intrinsically dull just for the sake of it. Do something with all your heart to make the journey meaningful. As long as the tools are available, the backend is secure, robust and safe; the rest of it can be built upon. So there were plenty of options we had to watch out and decide carefully.

Just to mention here, for two large chemical company deals in the Middle East and India, we had actually gone there and sat with them to understand their end-to-end requirements. We have everything digitalised so much and to the extent that even today their teams are using our portal and the tools seamlessly for increased assistance. As such, technology for us is not something that we should have, but something that should look good. However, I feel it’s a must as it is something that helps us drive business and cement relationships with our customers. We have taken that approach and that seems to be working for us.

Any expansion plans, new initiatives?

We have endeavoured on our digital journey two years back. Today, we are almost in the verge of transforming into a fully digital company. We are very much aware of the fact that technologies continue to carve out their role in the global logistics industry, and we do it just as one of them who is in the business of logistics.

You will see couple of initiatives rolled out in the next few years. The only objective is to make our customer’s life easier, with offering levels of optimisation throughout their supply chain.

Further, we are looking forward to expanding our business more in the US, currently where we are settled with two offices, and in the East Asian region, including China.

How have your company values influenced the overall success of the business or its change efforts?

We have never compromised on the fundamental values of our business. In essence, our core company values are integrity, transparency, respect, customer centrality, excellence, and social & environmental responsibility that drives our business. I believe this has enabled us to serve better as well as survive through volatile situations. These values and morals will continue to hold us and our business in the years to come.

As an integrated and holistic global shipping and logistics conglomerate, professionalism remains very largely intact in our business proposition and service delivery. Most importantly, we have a fantastic team of professionals who help steer the organisation in our consistent pursuit of operational excellence.

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