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Samir Fernandez on digitalisation: "A positive change

Capt. Samir Fernandez, Head of Global Operations of X-Press Feeders, shares his experiences with digitalisation in his company.

At this year’s Global Liner Shipping & Shipping2030 Asia, we gathered some of the most prominent thought leaders, and asked them to share their views on the hottest topics in shipping and maritime.

Capt. Samir Fernandez, Head of Global Operations at X-Press Feeders, was part of a panel on change management, so we asked him about his experiences of digitalisation in his company.

Watch the interview or read the transcript below.

Lili Nguyen: How has digitalisation changed your business? Was it a positive or negative change?

Capt. Samir Fernandez: I definitely feel it has been a positive change. One of the things that needs to be established is what digitalisation is. Is it just putting information and IT solutions onto something or is it really changing the way we do things? I actually feel that [digitalisation] is changing the way we do things or improving the way we do things.

If we look back at the shipping industry, I think we’ve always improved the way we do things. I started my career in the 1990s and GPS has just finished putting up their first constellation of satellites. It was new; I was told it could be switched off at any point in time, and to never trust it. So, I learnt how to use the sextant and compass bearings to put the position of a ship on a paper chart. And 18 years later when I gave up sailing, GPS had become a piece of critical equipment. The sextant was forgotten about, and paper charts were replaced by electronic charts.

The impact was quite significant, and the change, or the improvement, in the way we did things was significant. So, I think the shipping industry has continuously kept up with all the trends that have been taking place. We’ve got electronic bookings, EDI exchanges of cargo information… There isn’t a single area of shipping that hasn’t been identified for digitalisation or for improvement in performance.

LN: Can you share your thoughts on what role leadership plays in overcoming the digital disruption?

Capt. SF: The first thing would be to accept that change is inevitable. Whether you like it or not, leadership has to accept that change will happen. The role of leadership would be to nurture that change and to grow it in a logical and controlled fashion. One of the most important things would be to make sure that they differentiate between a fad and something that will really change the industry. Numerous businesses have collapsed because they didn’t implement change. But at the same time numerous businesses have also done badly because they implemented change in a haphazard manner. I think digital innovation needs to be evaluated and prioritised by leadership in order to really deliver what the customer wants, and keep it improving as we go along.

LN: Is the industry adapting to change fast enough?

Capt. SF: Everyone who loves change thinks it’s not happening fast enough, and everyone who dislikes change thinks it’s happening too fast. So, I think that as long as the shipping industry strives for that improvement in delivering what it can to the customer, I think that’s good enough. It is an industry with a tremendous legacy, and things are not going to change overnight, so as long as the progress continues, I think that’s alright with me.

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