A force for change

INSIGHTS - 19/11/2020

CEO Frank Coles explains how the technological transformation and organisational change taking place across Wallem is necessary. It is not just to survive and remain relevant in a rapidly changing and uncertain world – but to prosper

Wallem is undergoing a profound transformation. We are rolling out new technological platforms, such as BASSnet and SEDNA, introducing new practices, appointing new people in many roles. Significantly we are also becoming a more diverse and dynamic organisation.
The changes currently taking place at Wallem are not decided on a whim. On the contrary, they hold the key to Wallem retaining its world-leading position in a rapidly evolving world. Our strategy is grounded on three fundamentals: supporting quality through safety, transparency through technology and service through support.

As always, the industry is subject to both ups and downs in the global economy and unpredictable jolts in global geopolitics. For these reasons, it would be irresponsible for us not to take steps and prepare ourselves today.
Last July we deployed new cloud-based software designed to reduce paperwork and simplify workflows in our agency business. Simplifying documentation and actions required in port calls has enables our agents to enhance service quality and consistency for customers worldwide.
A month later we brought in SEDNA, a collaborative platform providing team inboxes allowing staff to work together on incoming messages and increase responsiveness to customers. Integrated with the Agency System, it formed a key component of a broader digital transformation aimed at streamlining interactions with customers and improving transparency through the intelligent use of technology. This will make its way across the whole organisation.
Our new fleet management system, BASSnet, serves as the backbone for realising our vision to become the leading provider of technology-driven maritime services. It will standardise ship processes and represents a total solution for maintenance, safety, operational and financial management services on a fleet-wide basis.
It will make us the first ship management company to implement a complete suite of integrated software without customization, laying to rest the myth that ship operations were somehow different and required multiple layers of overlapping technology.
Offering transparency, analytics and business intelligence is the way forward for high-performance fleet management and implementing a complete enterprise solution in the form of BASSnet will allow us to integrate the power of big data with our business processes.
We have become a more diverse organisation. More women seafarers sail on Wallem managed ships than ever before. A similar picture can be seen in our management team. From having only one woman in the management team, we’ve now almost reached parity with seven men and five women. In the process, the mean age of our senior team has dropped twenty years, from 61 years to under 41 years. In terms of nationalities too, we have also changed the senior team spread and have a wider global spread.

To put these initiatives into context, it’s worth reviewing how far we’ve come as an industry and what still has to be achieved. The most encouraging change in recent years is the increased awareness of technology and recognition of its role in the years ahead.
It has, however been slow in translating awareness into action. Many claim this is due to shipping’s inherently ‘conservative’ culture. In my view that interpretation is too simplistic. I think it more likely stems from a mismatch in what vessel owners, operators and managers need and what it is available from the OEMs and technology providers.
This has come about because the former are often poor at articulating their requirements and the latter prefer building what they want to build instead of listening properly to what their customers really need. As a result, we see a continuing stream of one-off innovations and proprietary solutions that miss the mark. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

The situation could be turned around if there were greater collaboration – not only between owners and OEMs but involving all stakeholders. Of course, calling for collaboration is one thing. Making it happen is altogether another thing. Clearly IMO is not the right setting. Its legions of government representatives and bureaucrats are hardly known for engaging in candid and constructive conversations. And besides they are often too distant from where the action is. What’s needed is a grouping that better represents those on the frontline of vessel operation and key commercial stakeholders.
It strikes me that stakeholders such as charterers are in a position to be far more vocal and pro-active in exerting their influence. All the glib talk about corporate social responsibility (CSR) could be harnessed as a force for creating positive change. It could have been exercised more effectively in pushing for action to resolve the crewing crisis, for example. Looking ahead, it could be applied to accelerate the transition to cleaner vessels. So far they’ve mostly proved hesitant, preferring instead to sit back and wait for owners to build new greener tonnage.

If you look carefully, there are glimmers of hope. A few enlightened charterers are pushing for a switch to dual-fuel ships, for instance. Imagine what could be achieved if this power were harnessed on a much greater scale. The actions of these frontrunners mirror conversations happening more widely across the industry: everyone is talking about dual-fuel operation, whether with LNG, ammonia, or even hydrogen.
The changes currently being implemented at Wallem will ensure we have the correct digital infrastructure in place so that we can handle whatever new fuels, new engine types or other novel technologies emerge. This infrastructure is necessary because regardless of what combinations of fuel or hardware emerge, they will be more complex and sophisticated than today’s conventional machinery arrangements. It will be brimming with hard-wired sensors generating streams of data, which in turn can be exploited for optimisation and smarter decision-making – both operationally and commercially.
New technology invariably creates new challenges. We must pay attention so that we do not repeat past mistakes and remember always that, whatever the technology in question, it should make the work of crew easier, not harder.

To the first point, we have to stop the practice of simply layering new technology on top of old. Common examples include maintaining paper charts while navigating on ECDIS, or continuing to update paper logs for, say, oily water separators while having a digital system that does the same but better. This administrative waste puts an unnecessary additional burden on already overworked crew.
To the second point, while the trend is towards greater automation, these systems must be overseen by highly trained and competent operators. Crew will have to acquire new skills and competencies to cope with novel technologies in terms both of their day-to-day operation and maintenance and understanding associated regulatory or compliance requirement. It is no longer acceptable to simply expect people to pick things up on the job. It is encouraging that simulation and online training is becoming more widespread, and that the use of virtual reality is gaining acceptance.

Most important of all is how we treat and support our people. Too much micro-managing can be counterproductive and breed resentment. At Wallem, we believe in our people. We trust, respect and, above all, empower them to perform their role to their utmost ability and act in the interest of the company as a whole.

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