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Accelerating Digital Transformation in the Maritime Sector

No one knows when the COVID-19 pandemic will end, but what our businesses and government stakeholders can continue to do is to keep the seaport functioning and supply chains moving, which is vital to ensure the flows of medical and food supplies reaching us on time. While traditional port community systems relied on physical interactions involving paper-based transactions, the digitalisation of maritime services has become a necessary step to prevent disruptions by the long-term impact of the global pandemic.

We spoke to Ms Lam Pei Yee, Deputy General Manager at Ocean Network Express Pte Ltd (ONE) Singapore, one of the largest container shipping companies in the world, who echoed the same sentiments and therefore, passionate about spearheading ONE’s digitalisation journey.

Ms Lam Pei Yee, Deputy General Manager at ONE Singapore whose main job roles include Business Process Excellence, Transformation and Digitisation

“Digital adoption will transform the way people work, bringing about positive changes like improving our internal productivity and work quality, and lowering the costs of servicing our customers while providing them a much better customer experience. It enables us to make better decisions, while improving team collaboration and communication.”

Maritime’s journey towards digital transformation

Many maritime companies have yet to fully embrace a complete change in how they work. But this has been quickly changing in recent years and for ONE, it has also been riding the digital wave.

“One of our core values at ONE is Innovation and that has guided us in driving digitalisation across the company since we started operations in 2018.”

While COVID-19 created many setbacks, it has paved the way for several positives. Digitalisation surged across industries amid the pandemic and the maritime industry too, was prompt in its digital uptake. According to the Maritime Digitalisation Playbook1 launched in 2020, a wide range of maritime technologies were adopted swiftly – the Internet-of-Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain and machine learning (ML) just to name a few.

A new era of digitalisation

In ONE, Pei Yee’s role involves driving business process excellence, digitisation, and transformation. She surmised that unprecedented world events offer reasons to re-examine current scenarios and devise new strategies for recovery and growth. The pandemic has, in no small measure, called for the optimisation of work processes.

“Overnight, almost all staff managing our back-office operations had to work from home,” says Pei Yee. She adds further, “We needed visibility on operations and had to move quickly from regular email-based reporting to real time dashboards to track transaction volumes and monitor them regularly at all levels – process, region and global wise.”

The maritime industry’s role is indispensable to world trade and, more so, to the movement of essential goods. Despite the unforeseen circumstances, the industry was able to forge ahead but not without COVID-19 issuing a clarion call that global supply chains are not immune to shocks. The pandemic has underscored the importance of supply chain resiliency – with higher tech adoption playing a key role in achieving resiliency.

At ONE, some of the changes that were implemented included digitising interactions with customers and the company’s work processes.

“Customer e-commerce portals, live chat platforms, chatbots, electronic Bills of Lading (eBL) and automation projects are just some of the programmes we have launched to drive higher customer satisfaction, improve work efficiency internally and make better informed decisions.” For instance, chatbots are deployed to answer standard queries from customers, enabling a higher number of interactions to be managed by support teams.

One of the many implementations to improve customer experience – a Live chat function that is available on ONE Singapore’s website homepage

Besides these improvements, the pandemic has also hastened the speed of eBL implementation in a bid to replace hardcopy bills. A series of automation projects were also put in place to automate repetitive tasks, helping ONE to continue reaping the benefits from their digitalised transformation.

New job roles and training opportunities emerge

With technology adoption being one of the top positives ushered in by COVID-19, this led to the creation of new roles and skill sets that were needed to drive digitalisation across businesses.

Some of these emerging career roles include Automation Managers, who are responsible for project management and aligning the outcomes of automation projects and Automation Business Analysts, who lead activities such as process assessments and requirements gathering.

As for training opportunities, ONE started grooming and upskilling its teams on new problem-solving techniques like ‘Design Thinking’ and ‘Agile Methodology’ as early as the company’s inception in 2018.

Design thinking training gives a new approach to how teams prototype and test products (photo taken prior to COVID-19)

This enabled ONE to “take on new opportunities and engage professionals with key skill sets towards delivering digitalisation programmes on time and extending support in the digitalisation drive.”

As part of training, ONE has ensured all its employees are equipped with essential industry skills like Design Thinking (photo taken prior to COVID-19)

Sharing deeper insights about her scope of work, she adds that they have “seen an increased demand in digital solutions both internally and externally.”

Going forward, new ecosystems will be built, allowing seamless data exchanges and global collaboration. The global maritime industry is getting faster at adopting technology and an industry-wide digital revolution is just around the corner.

Digital adoption is key for the maritime industry

As much as technology has been a harbinger of hope amid turbulent times, Pei Yee reiterates that maritime firms must bear in mind that adopting digitalised processes do not yield instant results.

“Such programmes have long gestation periods and benefits may only be realised over a longer period. In the short run, such programmes helped ONE streamline and standardise our processes globally. In the longer run, it has helped optimise our work processes enterprise-wide and has also improved our key performance indicators agreed upon with our customers.”

Having started the digital transformation process early, ONE was better able to manage the impacts of the pandemic. Given its long-term results, digital transformation should start early, and maritime companies are no exception to this. And there is no better time to begin the process than right now.

It is a welcomed change to see more maritime companies embracing new technologies to improve their business and company processes, ensuring operational continuity without compromising on the safety of their employees, customers, and vendors.

The possibilities are endless for individuals who wish to embark on this progressive journey in maritime companies. If you would like to journey with the maritime industry in this new era of transformation, check out our ‘What’s Happening’ page to discover career opportunities that might be the right fit for you!

1. For more information on the Maritime Digitalisation Playbook launched by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore and Singapore Shipping Association, please refer to the link here.

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