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Exclusive: Digitally transformed Gulftainer’s cargo and logistics operations deliver savings, convenience

Gulftainer has achieved several strategic global milestones over the last couple of years, including winning the 50-year concession to develop and operate the Port of Wilmington in the State of Delaware, USA, along with the launch of the Sharjah Port of Trade (S.P.O.T.) service

The current trade landscape in the UAE calls for faster, convenient and technology-driven logistics solutions S.P.O.T has raised service levels significantly, leading to substantial cost and time savings for customers Cargo hub automation will not be restricted to just robots, but also blockchain, AI and data processing technologies

Ports and logistics operators have joined the blockchain and digital transformation revolution, perhaps more so than other sectors, having a vested interest in making sure supply and value chains are accurate, accountable and accessible by many parties, instantly.   

Gulftainer is the world’s largest privately owned independent port operator. Momentum Logistics is a fully integrated third-party logistics (3PL) services provider and a wholly owned subsidiary of Gulftainer.

Gulftainer has international presence spanning across the Middle East, and Americas with projects in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Brazil and in the US. 

The following is a Q&A with Peter Richards, Group CEO of Gulftainer,

1- What are the new economies that Gulftainer will tap into to grow its business?

Gulftainer has achieved several strategic global milestones over the last couple of years, including winning the 50-year concession to develop and operate the Port of Wilmington in the State of Delaware, USA, along with the launch of the Sharjah Port of Trade (S.P.O.T.) service – a new strategic sea cargo clearance offering in the UAE.

At Gulftainer, our aim is to ensure that we continue to bring the same superior level of customer service for which the company has gained a global reputation. In keeping with this, we are enhancing our current services and capabilities throughout our ports by continuing to work closely with our stakeholders to ensure their requirements are fulfilled. For example, in Delaware, not only are we investing in the enhancement of the Port of Wilmington, we are also expanding our offerings to provide a complete suite of supply chain management solutions to our customers by launching the Delaware operations of Momentum Logistics, a subsidiary of Gulftainer and a specialised 3PL service provider.

We also aim to continue to build and grow our global footprint – covering the Middle East, the USA, Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America. We will continue to focus on increasing the capacity of our existing ports and on the acquisition of new, niche ports. 

Read: Watch global logistics shares for global supply chain signals on Coronavirus

2- What are the true economic impacts of the Coronavirus on maritime trade and cargo/container deliveries around the world? In the MENA/GCC region?

Global economies have taken a hit, owing to geopolitical risks and the recent spread of coronavirus. While many industries are seeing the impact, the shutdown of the Chinese market has also adversely affected the global shipping and logistics industry. 

The bearing on the regional markets, however, has been less severe, and we are positive that this will not have a major impact in the long-term. According to the Institute of International Finance, the economy of MENA has not been directly impacted in spite of the drop in oil prices and number of tourists. Ports and terminals continue to run smoothly with all necessary precautionary measures in place. 

3- What new logistics/supply chain technologies have you introduced recently and why? What is your blockchain supply chain strategy, if any? 

The current trade landscape in the UAE calls for faster, convenient and technology-driven logistics solutions. In 2019, we launched the new strategic sea cargo clearance service, S.P.O.T, to respond to this need through its strategic location at the core of the UAE’s commercial districts, and advanced clearance offerings. S.P.O.T. enables faster cargo processing times and up to 80% reduction in delivery cost, compared to existing options in the market.  

An inland extension of the Khorfakkan Container Terminal (KCT), S.P.O.T has raised service levels significantly, leading to substantial cost and time savings for our customers, drawing four major customers within a month of its launch.  

In addition to S.P.O.T., our digital infrastructure ensures that operations can be adjusted and evaluated for efficiency. It provides real-time computing power to help operators keep up with the large amount of cargo entering and leaving ports on mega ships, while making sure that containers are loaded and unloaded without a hitch, in the shortest turnaround time.

Various port operating companies are already utilising blockchain technology to simplify the lengthy and time-consuming data management procedures. At Gulftainer, we have invested in blockchain prototyping to enhance the speed of operations and delivery time, while also increasing data security and transparency. 

At this moment in time, the parties involved in the entire supply chain process do not interact significantly – from port operators to carriers to hauliers. Blockchain will link these disparate ways of working and will bridge the silos to reduce time spent on mundane and lengthy tasks. Our aim is to optimise efficiency throughout the supply chain process and offer the best services to benefit consumers. 

At the heart of our strategy are people and their satisfaction. We make sure that our tactics are planned in a way that would ultimately benefit them. These people include employees, customers and all other stakeholders. This is the recipe to any successful strategy and this concept serves as the foundation of our blockchain technology.

Read: 7 supply chain predictions: Looking ahead with 2020 vision

4- What top 3 trends can you name in the industry that address clients’ changing needs?

Adoption of digitisation across the industry has resulted in the few trends below:

Visibility and traceability: Technology and advanced solutions have empowered customers by giving them visibility of cargo movement. Customers can now track the journey of their cargos in real-time, which helps them plan their next steps accordingly optimising the entire process.

End-to-end services: Ports are further enhancing their services and infrastructure to be able to meet the ‘just-in-time’ concept, and faster vessel turnarounds. Ports now have access to advanced equipment that enables them to gain access to their containers within hours of the vessel berthing. The increasing number of partnerships with 3PL providers have also enabled port operators to deliver the shipment faster to the customers.

Autonomous Drones: Autonomous Drones are gradually being integrated into the daily operations of ports around the world. Drones can improve the operational efficiency and increase safety across various operations. They can be potentially used throughout the supply chain to transport high-value or emergency cargo. They increase efficiency while decreasing costs and carbon emissions.

5- What are the ports of the future? Will Robotics be more in play?

To meet current, and be prepared for future, customer demands, a large number of the world’s largest cargo hubs have invested heavily in smart technologies to transform themselves into ‘Smart Ports.’ With e-commerce booming across the world, the port industry is rapidly adopting technology to cater to the dynamic market needs. This will transform the infrastructure of ports and consequently how they operate. Future ports will be bigger, faster, greener, automated and smarter than they are now.  

Robots will play an important role in aiding employees with lengthy mundane tasks freeing the them to handle more strategic and complex tasks in the upcoming years. However, automation will not be restricted to just robots, but also blockchain, AI and data processing technologies that can gather and process information more efficiently, further eradicating chances for human error. These technologies have the potential to deliver new levels of productivity.

6- What are your key investment and management strategies that apply to your portfolio of ports in the region (UAE, KSA, Lebanon…)? 

This is an important region for Gulftainer with our operations spread across the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Iraq. Our investment strategy here, as well as globally, is centred around port enhancement and optimisation through digitization and skills development. We constantly strive to be ahead of the curve of global shipping trends, as demonstrated by our digital transformation strategy with in-house initiatives such as our ‘Performance Excellence’ program, EmPower, and the ‘Terminal Partnering’ collaboration projects with our customers.  

With advanced software and technology in place, Gulftainer is always ready to welcome mega vessels to our facilities, enabling us to offer more e-services, which minimizes the delays of querying and processing information in the legacy manual format. Implementation of digital port enhancement technologies, however, goes hand in hand with the human dimension because new roles and competencies are required for smart ships, alongside the upscaling of existing job roles. 

At Gulftainer, we have long recognised the value of training and upskilling as a crucial element of building an engaged workforce. To help this process, we have innovated ‘in-house` and created our own ‘Competency Based Training` software to ensure the training is intuitive, trackable and most importantly fun for the end user, as change management is a critical factor when introducing aspects of automation into the workplace. 

We have invested in increasing and improving our health and safety training, along with our “Lifelong Learning” program for our employees to keep them engaged and adept in managing business operations and provide the best products/services to customers. A framework of ‘measure – identify – rectify’ results in continuous improvement of employability internally.

Read: Dubai Airport Freezone Authority contribution to Dubai’s foreign trade jumps to AED164 bn

7- What is your expansion strategy based on?

At Gulftainer, we believe that our growth is deep-rooted in the partnerships that we have established over the years and maintained through our commitment to add value to our partners. We are focused on encouraging new and innovative ways of doing business and building long-term relationships by leveraging the power of these partnerships. In addition, we believe that technology holds immense potential for the industry and can help us to benchmark our operations against best global practices. Thus, we will continue to invest in R&D, upskilling our people, technology and digitisation. 

We are currently assessing several potential new ventures in line with the company’s commercial strategy and growth, driving its vision of becoming one of the world’s top six container terminal operators within the next 10 years.

8- What does sustainability represent or how is it reflected in your industry?

Sustainability and reduction of carbon footprint has become a priority for port authorities and a number of port operating companies as they try to align with the evolving sustainability agendas. The industry as a whole is working to find efficient and creative methods to manage ports more effectively.

An increasing number of companies have made information available about the environmental performance of sea transport providers. Access to this kind of information will aid companies in setting environment-friendly benchmarks for shipping. Smart use of data will create visibility for resource management and potentially saving energy. Many companies are also educating and engaging their employees in environmentally friendly practices. 

There is an ongoing industry-wide dialogue about transitioning from linear economies to circular economies globally. Ports are very much a part of this debate and play an integral role in supporting the global effort towards curbing carbon footprint and waste management. 

Giving the proximity of port operations to marine life, conservation is an important element to consider. At Gulftainer, for example, we have a rigorous marine conservation policy in place which is evident at our container terminals where turtles can be seen swimming close to huge container ships. Our partnership with the Emirates Wildlife Society further supports the preservation and protection of the Hawksbill turtle

In further efforts aimed at reducing our carbon footprint, Gulftainer has installed hybrid Rubber Tyred Gantries (RTGs) across all terminals which significantly eliminate carbon emissions.