Technology leaders must use business skills and balance managing existing technology with creating new opportunities, says OSM's chief technology officer Chakib Abi-Saab
There is, in my view, a big elephant in the room that no one is talking about and I believe it is key for all of us to address it. I’m referring to business skills for technology people.
When I talk to organisations I see some fantastic ideas. But the problem today is not the technology, or that there are no technologies to address the issues we have in the maritime industry. One of the biggest challenges we face is that many technology leaders fail to understand the business side of the organisation. We go to the board of directors and the chief executive and we talk about technology: we talk about speed; we talk about backups. We do not talk about the bottom line, we do not talk about competitive advantage. And until we change that, until we start addressing technology in terms that make sense for the business side, we will not move forward. The maritime industry is a business. This is not an area where we follow technology because it’s cool.
Everyone’s talking about Shipping 4.0, which is basically using sensors to monitor many aspects of vessels so we can have real-time information that will hopefully allow us to go from today, where we are managing assets, to remote management and hopefully one day, autonomous.
I see that many companies are talking about digitalisation, blockchain and optimisation, but the reality is how many are actually doing it? Everybody says “digitalisation is so important,” but you ask them “What have you actually done?” and find that organisations are not taking advantage of the many opportunities governments like Singapore, for example, are giving them. I have been in Singapore for one year, and in this year I have seen more support for development than I’ve seen anywhere else I’ve lived. But I don’t see organisations taking advantage of it.
The important thing is, when we talk about why we are moving toward digitalisation, what are the key drivers? What is pushing us to do this? Is it technology, or is it business? In OSM’s case, we want to be best-in-class, we want to have safety and we want to improve customer relationships. We want to be able to show every client we have what’s happening in their ships. It’s very important to build trust and trust is built in our case by showing the clients, our customers, what is happening in their ships. Efficiency, agility and adaptability are key. We want to be able to change and adapt first. We want to differentiate ourselves from our competitors.
Another area I spend time on is how can technology enable us to gain competitive advantages through new business models and through new revenue streams? Think about one very simple aspect – if you go to a board of directors or a chief executive and you explain to them how a specific technology is going to improve the bottom line by 20% you’ve got their attention. And that is part of what I was saying earlier, we fail to discuss technology in business terms.
So, because of that, I believe we need to work at two speeds. One is that we need to protect the core. We are in IT, we manage technology, so we have to manage the legacy, we have to make sure email is working, we need to make sure we have connectivity for the ships. We can’t get away from that, that’s part of information technology for the maritime industry.
But then there is the other side – creating new opportunities, creating new business advantages, creating areas of monetisation for the organisation. One of the things we see in OSM Technology – and I have been able to ingrain this very hard – is “if we can’t monetise it, it’s not good enough.” And monetisation is not necessarily only revenue, but you have to get a proper ROI for every technology project you have, or it’s simply not planned well enough.
We need to protect the core and we need to create new opportunities – as long as we do that, we will be able to continue to adopt digitalisation.
This is an edited excerpt from a longer presentation made by Mr Abi-Saab at the Maritime Digital Innovation Summit in Singapore on 14-15 November 2018