Digitalising your shipping ecosystem – Executive Insights – Sri Himakuntala.
SH: Sri Himakuntala
SFR: Shipping and Freight Resource
SFR : Digitalization has only recently begun to gain momentum in shipping and logistics. However, you began your journey in this space, much earlier. Can you briefly explain your foray into this domain and how it all began?
SH: Digitalization makes business processes more efficient. In logistics and supply chain, moving cargo from supply to demand often includes the real-time tracking of every movement, interfaces with manufacturing (for supply), real-time interfaces for ports and intermediaries, and electronic transfer of status information to everyone.
We began with that complete vision in mind. Then we built a product road map, with time frames and specific checkpoints, with committed deliverables. It provided our first customers with the confidence that we would live up to our commitments and deliver on time, on budget
SFR: Shipping has been a very traditional industry with a lot of paper processes. How did you get this age-old sector to buy into digital solutions? What was your biggest challenge?
SH: My biggest challenge was to find a pioneer or trailblazer to be the first. I knew the industry from my time working with freight forwarders globally. When we started in 2005 it was unclear that all information would flow without paper, but rather electronically. Once we found a company to “buy-into” our vision, we stayed on top of them and provided superior customer service and response times second to nobody.
The future of logistics will be completely paperless and other than the need for an Original B/L or a need for an Original document, Intellect Technologies can already completely support a paperless process.
SFR: You do not have just one or two, but 4 unique solutions as part of your ecosystem (eShip, eFreight, eCustoms, and eWarehouse), catering to varied interests. Tell us about this and how do you manage to do justice to each vertical?
SH: We have developed 4 unique solutions to accommodate all the different aspects of logistics. We have eShip to accommodate Ocean Carriers, eFreight to accommodate 3PLS, Forwards & NVOCCs, we have eCustoms to accommodate the technical aspect filing with US customs and eWarehouse to accommodate both CFS and DC types of warehouses.
When you look at the functionality across the 4 solutions, they can operate as “stand-alone” offerings or as one complete platform. For instance, an NVOCC may have a TMS but that TMS does not have the capabilities to file ISF or AES. That NVOCC can utilize our eCustoms solution to file with customs.
The technology architecture and the Oracle DB are made for this type of integration. We do not refer to the products as separate but rather a common platform. We have found that global, and even regional, shippers are looking for this type of vision. We devote our resources to the most important customer requests and re-prioritize as necessary, sometimes within the same day.
SFR: The inevitable question – what has been your experience in the wake of the Covid-19 situation? Do you see the industry changing? What lessons/changes would you put in place with respect to your business?
SH: At this time, Coronavirus has spread worldwide affecting everything from the day-to-day life of people to industries like Logistics. Apart from the essential staff at the ports and other important workplaces, most of the logistics operations can be run from remote locations. Our applications are exactly built for that.
Most of our own technical staff and employees of our customers are all working from home, accessing our applications to carry our everyday business requirements of the worldwide logistics industry. We are glad to be helpful to our customers to bring a business-as-usual kind of environment in these tough times due to the cloud-based technology we are offering for all our products.
We have found some companies do not have the required systems to allow their employees to work remotely as efficiently as they did while in the office. Unfortunately, those same companies are too occupied trying to make “workarounds” to really look at new systems at this time.
We feel that once we start to come out of these unprecedented times, those companies will be looking to invest in the type of technology that Intellect Technologies provides to ensure they are prepared if something like this happens again. Also, a product of these times will be the greater acceptance of employees working from home or remotely.
I believe many companies out there have or will come to the realization that allowing employees to work from home does not just provide a very good “work/life balance” for their employees but also can provide some cost efficiencies. That being said, those companies will also be in search of the type of technology Intellect Technologies provides.
SFR: Being a serial entrepreneur, what advice do you have for startups and others who aim to provide digital solutions for the shipping & logistics sectors?
SH: Study, focus, and differentiation. Study the field so that you know how the players in the industry are currently doing the work. It is best to narrow the initial solution to a small set of processes in which you are comfortable, where you have a strong background and can build your team incrementally so as not to add unnecessary cost.
Focus on a functional area or a customer set or where you have a competitive advantage. Build a target list of firms that you believe will need your initial offering. Invest in marketing, sales process and sales professionals.
Reach out to your target repeatedly with targeted emails and phone calls and social media like LinkedIn.
Elevate the interactions so where the target executive is in dialogue with you and includes others from his/her organization in the discussions. Be sure you have a visually appealing and informative website. The first place people go when you introduce your company to them is the website.
A website is a very important marketing tool these days. Once the prospects see the value in your product offerings, it becomes easy to bring them on-board.