Three steps to developing a digital plan in bulk shipping

New technology and the age of digitisation

The pace of technological change today is unprecedented in our history. This rapid digitisation of businesses big and small, industries old and new and economies developed and developing, brings with it immense challenges and exciting opportunities in equal measure.

The dry bulk shipping industry is a dynamic and complex network of people and information and – despite being staffed by knowledgeable professionals – the process of fixing a vessel for dry bulk remains both complicated and time consuming.

In our recent article 'Avoiding common pitfalls of the dry bulk fixing process', we outlined the main problems we still see in our industry every day.

1. Disparate systems

Huge volumes of data stored in a diverse range of systems – none of which actually talk to each other.

2. Tools that can’t scale

Gaps between different systems plugged with make-shift solutions – such as MS Excel and Google Docs – that are just not up to the job.

3. Sub-optimal use of knowledge workers

Highly-skilled people laboriously piecing information together, rather than adding value to their clients and nurturing more junior team members.

Simply keeping track of all the core information, manually processing it and prudently disseminating it across the team can bog down even the most efficient and diligent employee. This is exactly where recent advances in communications technology and machine learning can help.

The power of data-driven communications

At the heart of digital lies data. Bits and bytes. Packets and protocols. With the increasing volume of communications, variety of channels and proliferation of formats, leveraging data from across the business can be incredibly powerful. But with information stored in different systems and databases that don’t – and more importantly won’t – talk to each other, that is perhaps easier said than done.

For all the sophistication of the old tools and the promises of shiny new technology, what they lack is intelligence. The ability to sit across the different systems and do the heavy lifting – the data processing that we’ve become so used to dealing with as a part of the day-to-day admin. What is needed is a new layer of smart technology that sits above the rest. An intelligent layer that enables employees to focus on adding value and increasing revenue.

At Shipamax, we have created such an ‘intelligent layer’. A next-generation communications platform designed to reduce the unnecessarily burden of information processing. An intelligent system that automatically processes, structures and presents data allowing senior brokers and operators to focus on the important part – the detailed analysis of information that really adds the value to their clients.

In our recent article Technology focus: Real-time team collaboration in dry bulk shipping, we detailed the two main types of pre-fixture communication – group circulars and market gossip – our solution is custom-made to handle both. We explained how the Shipamax platform allows information to flow seamlessly throughout the organisation and not only reduce the overall administrative burden but free up senior employees to focus their efforts on raising the level of service the younger members of their team provide.

In this article we will outline the steps you can take to leverage the power of data-driven communications and bring your dry bulk shipping process into the digital age.

Step #1: Undertake a software licensing audit

Any potentially transformative initiative needs strong foundations and that’s where detailed discovery and exploration comes in. An invaluable planning exercise that allows you to establish the current state-of-play before considering where to go in the future.

Firstly, you’ll need to nominate a project lead from each of your teams – make sure to pick someone with a logical mind and an eye for detail. Task them with creating an exhaustive list of tools, systems, technology and data sources that are used by the team as well as the types of information and the stakeholders involved.

They should then conduct a thorough investigation and report back with details of the software licences and data subscriptions that are in place, the associated costs and the number of active users. If possible, they should try to gather the team’s view on the usefulness and value of each item on the list.

Step #2: Map your current systems and areas of pain

Having conducted the initial research and established the lay-of-the-land, you’ll then need to identify any potential problem areas across the different systems and processes you manage. To start with, you’ll need to map the current processes in detail. To get the best results, we would recommend having someone that is not overly familiar with the day-to-day process to conduct this analysis. You might want to consider swapping over the team project leads from step #1 if that works for you.

The nominated person should then sit down with their assigned team and work through their core daily tasks, documenting the process flows and mapping all the tools that are used, how often they are used and how they are all connected to each other. Creating a common questionnaire might help but remember, each team and department will be different so don’t stick too rigidly to any pre-defined framework.

The most important part of this step is to mark the process and systems map with all the things that currently work well and those that don’t work so well – where the biggest pains points are today and where time is being wasted. In addition to interviewing key team members about this, it might be a good idea for the project lead to observe each part of the process in action and report their findings back to the team for discussion.

Step #3: Develop a smart digital plan

Finally, you’ll need to take all the learnings from the previous steps and develop a digital transformation plan. Start by combining the costs identified in step #1 with the pain points diagnosed in step #2 and then prioritise the areas for improvement across the teams – grouping them where possible. As the capacity to innovate will doubtless be limited, this approach will help you see where common solutions can be deployed and where the best opportunities are for digitisation.

For us, a smart digital plan can range from agreeing to talk to one new software vendor a month, to undertaking a comprehensive digital transformation initiative. Either way, we’d love to meet with you and your team to explore how Shipamax can help plan and implement smart digital technology solutions within your organisation.

We'd love to talk

Shipamax helps free logistics companies from manual admin using plug and play automation. You can find out more about how we're helping shipbrokers, by using this link to book a demo with a member of our team.

Josh BradleyVP Demand Generation
January 2020
7 min read
  • Shipbrokers
  • Machine Learning
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