The Future of Ship Agency Sits in the Cloud
With the Coronavirus pandemic hitting many segments of the global shipping industry particularly hard, it is understandable that businesses of all sizes are reviewing their budgets for 2020 and beyond and looking for ways to reduce costs while maintaining their operations. Supply chains are being disrupted, inspections postponed or conducted remotely, crew transfers complicated, and paperwork ditched as social distancing measures are in place. The role of the ship agent is of even greater importance during these troubling times; but many are not armed with the tools to operate efficiently and safely.
For ship agency businesses of all sizes, carefully considering how IT software and applications can help to reduce costs and build resiliency into their business in future is a no-brainer. If we have learnt anything over the past few months, it is that the technological capabilities of an organization are a key determinant of whether or not it can survive in a world that demands flexibility and uninterrupted service capabilities.
Before the turn of the year, many IT professionals were still working hard to convince many entrenched CEO’s of the benefits of cloud-based software solutions, but COVID-19 has pushed most companies to adapt quickly and adjust to working through the cloud. Any company that has been able to weather the past few months without applications such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom, DropBox or Onedrive is likely to be in the minority. Few, we believe, would look back now, having experienced the benefits that cloud-based solutions can bring.
Of course, moving onto cloud-based applications was going to happen eventually – COVID-19 has just leapfrogged a few years in the transition. This is evidenced by the IDG Cloud Computing Survey 2020 of tech buyers (across all industries) published in April, which showed that 59 percent of respondents said they planned to be “mostly” (43 percent) or “all” (16 percent) in the cloud in 18 months, up from 38 percent who say they are mostly or all in the cloud at the time of polling. These polls must have been conducted before COVID-19 spread worldwide, so it is safe to assume that the adoption figures will be significantly higher by this time next year. We say this because cloud-based solutions and applications have made it possible for most companies to minimize disruption to their personnel.
However, many of the cloud-based solutions adopted in the wake of the pandemic are generalist applications Now is the time to invest in purpose-built cloud-based solutions that enhance, improve business capability and ensure resiliency of specialist operations and services.
Looking at cloud-based solutions designed specifically for ship agency businesses such as Softship’s Advanced Port Agency Solution (Softship.SAPAS), using web-based platforms which encompass every administrative task agents’ undertake on behalf of their Principals, means every team within the company has the capability to work remotely. They don’t have to shoehorn existing applications together to try and operate online. Automatic syncing of information, automation of data flows and standardization of processes through the purpose-built software removes a significant amount of human error and provides a greater level of foresight and control. Importantly, every department and every individual is intrinsically linked within a single system so that there is transparency and a data-trail that can be understood by any team member.
Importantly, cloud-based applications provide an almost limitless amount of storage space and the ability to utilize big-data applications and insight. Granular data can be leveraged to understand the impact of every aspect of the supply chain; every influence and variable analyzed to identify latent efficiencies, overcome problems and mitigate risk. They can archive a limitless amount of data and information which may be called upon in future, they can liaise effectively with port authorities and provide real-time updates to owners and operators, and they can work quickly should any health emergencies occur.
Importantly, in the cloud, a ship agency business will only pay for what it uses. Capacity – and therefore fees – can be adjusted to suit the highs and lows of the business, which is critical in this low-margin business. Cloud-based working also provides a platform for the use of mobile devices, which can enable them to work more intelligently. From submitting Statement of Facts to updating the port call progress, through cloud-based solutions agents can engage a wide range of distant partners and third parties engaged in the process.
Given the continued impact of COVID-19, we can expect that the ability to operate remotely, efficiently and with full transparency is going to become even more important and a deciding factor for Principals in appointing a ship agent. So too is the ability to provide clear, dependable and actionable data insight in real-time so that agents can advise their principals about how to anticipate and adjust to rapidly changing port requirements. Investing in cloud solutions that will build resiliency into a business and enables it to adapt to a new kind of normal, is perhaps the safest bet that any business can make today.