The Caravel Group has transformed its supply chain across continents through digitisation

The Caravel Group has transformed its supply chain across continents through digitisation

Maritime transport remains a significant linchpin in the world’s economy. With more than 90% of goods and services travelling via this route, global sea trade remains a significant driver in the delivery of high-quality products and services. Headquartered in Hong Kong, The Caravel Group, taking its name from 15th century trading vessel, ‘the caravel’, has played a key role in the facilitation of global seaborne trade, with strategic locations situated in China, Cyprus, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

While the group is no stranger to increasing competition across the shipping industry, changes in requirements from industry participants, increasing and changing regulatory regimes and pricing pressures have created a seismic shift in expectations from the industry, with digitisation expected to be the driver of change.

“What makes us unique is our range of qualities: from our agility and spirit, our entrepreneurial drive, integrity and transparency in our operations, as well as our diverse set of business operations across the value chain, which allows us to provide integrated solutions. We are a large company, with the energy of a start-up,” comments Chief Operating Officer, Angad Banga. “It is critical for the organisation to drive change, using the business initiatives we create and build over time.”

Guaranteeing value-added services will be the main differentiator for any business and Banga is keen to embrace and implement new IT and operational technologies (OT) which will demonstrate excellence, each and every time. As an example, The Caravel Group’s Ship Management division, Fleet Management Limited, which is one of the largest and preeminent third-party ship management firms with over 500 vessels under management, has been a key division which has embraced new digital tools. Catering to cargo ship owners worldwide, including bulk carriers, oil, gas and cargo carriers, chemical tankers and more, Fleet Management’s longstanding expertise in technical and management services has been enhanced with innovative software to drive operational efficiency in delivering exceptional end-to-end, value-added solutions to its clients. Banga notes that its ship management system has the ability to provide close to real-time data to clients, something which was previously unavailable.

“The maritime industry is one of the oldest modes of transport, and has gone through several stages of technological revolution throughout history. We expect to see another impressive shift in the near-future. The industry is not necessarily considered innovative, but is actually hugely complex. Each vessel requires a high level of technical expertise to able to manage it – not just the engineering and crew itself but also the IT systems and OT systems which we provide,” he explains. “More and more ships are getting connectivity, which helps us begin the process of digitisation. It means certain applications and certain tasks can be completed on ships without the network problems we previously encountered. Over time, this should hopefully lead to a higher degree of automation – at sea, but also within the offices.”

In the trading of industrial dry bulk commodities, the group’s Resources division has become a key staple for the steel and energy sectors. Its three main subsidiaries – metallurgical, carbons, and ores and alloys – are safely transported as a result of the group’s robust supply chain and logistics capabilities. Nonetheless, as the need for global shipping services continues to escalate, technology has seen a steady rise in demand – something which Caravel has been keen to tap into by taking a greater look at the high volumes of data accumulated across the group, in order to drive greater value and access further opportunities.

“Much of the data is not captured at source in a systematic manner. When the data is collected, it’s not being effectively utilised, which leads to the question of ‘is the business intelligence there?’ ‘Is there a sufficient level of resourcing?’ There are some companies doing it but I think it's at an early stage. This is a key area of focus for The Caravel Group. We will be using several tools to enhance data visualisation and modelling through machine learning,” adds Banga. “We already have some of these initiatives underway, and hopefully, these will be a foundation for enabling future generations of tools that are developed to service our clients. Organisations will need to understand the value of technology, how to use it and to actually innovate.”

Although technology has grown “in leaps and bounds” and accelerated the transformation of businesses globally, he adds the group’s integrated, passionate workforce and client-led focus is its biggest asset. Blending technology, creativity and training has therefore seen the business build a new application which has fully digitised the seafarer experience across their 500 vessels, even before they have joined. Accessible through Android and Apple stores, the new app has led seafarers to join the business quicker and make an immediate difference, boosting engagement and seafarer retention levels in the process.

“We can scan a seafarer’s passport which is then sent back promptly,” Banga says. “Previously, it was a fully manual process, so this has reduced delays in the process. Through the app, users can submit their application, which provides two options: a quick application and a full application. The quick application is where you can apply straight away with minimal requirements, and we can actually start conversations with seafarers looking to apply to us. The full application is a more detailed application where you put all your certifications and take photos of your details, and this information is then uploaded to our proprietary crew management database allowing our on-boarding teams to reduce their manual processes and focus on the value-add aspect to hiring high quality seafarers. It supports those who are interested in joining, and we have received positive feedback both from the community and the industry,” he adds. Following its success, the group is now rolling out similar technologies to transform its quality management systems, utilising tools such as iPads to fully mobilise its inspection and audit processes.

For Banga, implementing such technology has proved highly beneficial, yet he is cautious not to introduce new technologies “just for technology’s sake”. With the number of security breaches rising each year and damage projected to hit US$6trn annually by 2021, according to Symantec, security has become a key driver for the group.

“While the industry continues to shift, it is essential for us build a digital fingerprint in the industry, but to also build the IT foundation needed to have a good security in place,” he adds thoughtfully. “We have a number of partners on board to support us in the delivery of end-point protection. Technology enables us to further this vision.”

Symantec has been one such partner which has been instrumental in the transformation of the group’s digital security from an IT perspective.

“Our relationship with Symantec started with advancing our digital protection, where we explored a number of products in the security space which would help us protect our end-points. We had limited defense, but by expanding our partnership further, we have embedded a strong level of protection,” he explains.

“By implementing tools from Symantec, we can now guarantee robust email protection. Previously, the group received a high volume of malware, which has been reduced significantly since we implemented Symantec’s solution.

“I think the biggest strength is their ability to be able to operate without needing continual updates every time. In some scenarios we need to have a managed anti-virus product that doesn't just simply scan for viruses, but really protects the end-point device from external effects. Other products do similar things, but Symantec was very satisfactory from a result perspective. Following the implementation of the Symantec solution, the number of spam emails stopped in a month was up to 15% of total emails received.”

As the group continues to pioneer new markets and trade routes, it will look towards the use of new digital tools and partnerships in order to remain a key player in the market and deliver dynamic, world-class service to clients worldwide. With its entrepreneurial spirit, its diverse portfolio and strong relationships with clients, partners and its stakeholders, the business will remain agile and responsive to various market trends as the shipping industry endures and thrives.

Angad Banga