Digitalisation offers a key to Hapag-Lloyd’s aims to build its business relationships, as Container Shipping & Trade editor Rebecca Moore explains, but its instant bookings capabilities did not happen overnight
Hapag-Lloyd is leaning in to the difficult task of deploying data to build a more productive relationship with terminals, improve its customer service offerings and track and improve on-time delivery of shipments, and its efforts may well set it apart from its competition.
To help boost its on-time delivery rates, Hapag-Lloyd senior director of corporate development Pyers Tucker told me, the company is establishing a central control tower to manage the schedules of its fleet of ships. Previously, independent instructions came from the area nearest to the individual ship.
The control tower, Mr Tucker explained, gives local decision makers access to "all of the downstream consequences on a roundtrip", putting key, relevant data at their fingertips to enable them to "make the right decisions for the whole organisation, rather than just locally-optimised ones”.
Digitalisation enables the control tower. The digital connection brings in disparate data streams in multiple formats and from multiple sources, combines them in an automated way and presents the information to the control tower team to effect better -- and faster -- decision-making.
But it takes planning. Hapag-Lloyd has developed the project over nine months and is building the software and user interfaces. Mr Tucker estimated it will take two to three years to roll out the project completely.
And they expect tangible results: more shipments arriving on time and earlier notification to customers when problems arise.
To augment the benefits of the centralised control tower, Hapag-Lloyd is working more closely at an operational level with its terminal partners to move from an atmosphere of "little coordination" to finding win-wins that will allow the business to make earlier decisions, optimising data delivery and formatting as necessary.
A pilot scheme carried out at Jebel Ali terminal is being rolled out to other terminals. It includes work to improve communications around vessel arrival times as well as logistics involving cranes and tandem cranes, gangway and labour gang allocations, intermodal terminal planning, bunkering, tugs, stowage and loading requirements.
As Mr Tucker noted, this is a detailed and time-consuming process, requiring daily, weekly and monthly meetings to coordinate.
Elsewhere, the company has boosted its customer service offering through its web channel – Quick Quotes – which it launched last January before going public with it in August.
In comparison to traditional business via email and human operators, Mr Tucker said the Hapag-Lloyd system is "fully automated", explaining that, "like Amazon", customers receive instant quotes and have the option to book online with the click of a mouse.
The web channel has grown in 12 months to represent over 6% of Hapag-Lloyd’s global business and is producing 120,000 automated quotations each week. And, to help refine its online tool, Hapag-Lloyd has invited customers to briefings to teach them how to use the tool and to gain valuable feedback.
The container shipping sector is -- as a whole -- well-practiced in utilising digital platforms and solutions, and Hapag-Lloyd does not pretend otherwise. But the company is using digitalisation to work smarter. By innovating, the company is determined to deliver its services more quickly and more reliably. In a sector that is looking at ever-narrowing margins, its hard work in the short term could see joined-up digital capabilities and streamlined data delivery give it an edge on its competition in the long run.