Founded in 1861, the Wilhelmsen group operates the largest maritime network on the planet, with over 2,200 locations worldwide. Wilhelmsen Ships Service, a wholly-owned company by the Wilhelmsen group, is a global provider of standardised product brands and service solutions to the maritime industry, focusing on marine products, marine chemicals, maritime logistics and ships agency.
For this week’s NBAS Talks business profile, we have talked with Marius Johansen, Vice President, Commercial at Wilhelmsen Ships Service. In this article, Marius shares his thoughts on how Wilhelmsen Ships Service has adapted in response to COVID-19, what they have done to remain innovative as well as upcoming challenges in the changing face of maritime.
Push for Digitalization in Singapore’s Maritime Industry
Today, the Wilhelmsen group has offices located in 74 countries around the world, with over 15,000 employees. We asked Marius when and why they decided to move their Ships Agency headquarters to Singapore.
“We moved our Ships Agency headquarters to Singapore in 2017 for a couple of reasons. One was the access to competence, the second was our cooperation with the Maritime Port Authority (MPA) in Singapore. Their interest in what we do, their passion for technology and innovation as well as their willingness to test new ideas was extremely important for us. Besides, there are so many advantages of doing business in Singapore. Working with MPA has been phenomenal – whether it is in terms of funding schemes for new innovative projects, support in developing manpower, connecting you to a network of technology providers or engaging you in technology forums with other relevant partners,” Marius states.
He adds, “The push for digitalization in Singapore’s maritime industry has been a strong and proactive one, and they are determined to leave no one behind. As an example, MPA, the Singapore Shipping Association (SSA) and Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) recently co-developed the Maritime Digitalisation Playbook (MDP) to help maritime companies uncover opportunities in digital transformation and highlight some first steps that maritime companies take, regardless of whichever state a digital maturity your organization is at. It is a very well-formulated, structured playbook with tons of resources for planning, implementing, partnering and building sustainable digital capabilities for the long-term.”
Utilizing New Ways of Using Technology
For Ships Agency in Wilhelmsen, the last few months have been primarily focused on helping their customers and supporting the maritime industry to navigate through the complexities and impact of COVID-19. We asked Marius to share the major developments Ships Agency in Wilhelmsen has seen the past months.
“With our boots on the ground in 2,200 locations, this worked to our advantage of being able to get accurate information quickly amidst the chaotic and dynamic situation. Then, we digitized this information into interactive, online tools such as our COVID-19 port restrictions map, lay-up location restrictions map, crew change regulation infographic flyers which we have made available to anyone. We also implemented a Live Chat function on the maps so that map visitors can talk to someone in real-time to ask further for information regarding COVID-19.
Meanwhile, we have been utilizing new ways of using technology in this time of social distancing. We are a piloting partner for a joint industry initiative in Singapore to provide crew with virtual doctor consultations for fit-to-fly certificate rather than requiring physical attendance of doctors on vessels. We have also partnered with local providers to perform virtual religious and befriending services to help with the mental well-being of crew that has been servicing for extended periods at sea,” Marius explains.
COVID-19 Accelerates Digital Initiatives
With dynamic COVID-19 regulations surrounding crew change, it can be cumbersome trying to stay on top of all the latest changes. We asked Marius to share how their business is shifting in response to COVID-19 and what they have done to remain innovative in these uncertain times.
“With more than 80% of countries closing their borders and crew change restrictions related to COVID-19 still remain fluid in many places, the expectation is that the coordination of crew change will continue to be a challenge. The new guidelines defined by the Singapore Crew Change Working Group helps provide both predictability and a solid foundation for safe crew changes and could become the blueprint for port authorities elsewhere when looking at reopening for crew changes. Being a part of this workgroup has enabled us to gain experience and insight into how this can be scaled up across the globe, while adapting the framework to local conditions”, Marius says.
He further adds,” We also need to consider the trends of what the ‘new normal’ for port calls will be like post-COVID-19. The pandemic has significantly accelerated digitalization in port call operations due to physical distancing and remote working. This sets the perfect stage for us to ride this wave and accelerate a couple of digital initiatives we had planned that would otherwise have had a much slower adoption rate”.
Collaborating With Industries Outside Maritime
The COVID-19 outbreak has exposed the need for more organisations to invest in new ways of thinking. We asked Marius to share how Ships Agency in Wilhelmsen will position themselves to keep ahead of competition and challenges in the changing face of maritime.
“While it can be tempting to get carried away with the latest technology trends and try to do something with it – if this isn’t a pain point that the customer is facing, it simply would not work. It is really about coming back to the basics of understanding the customer journey, their needs and frustrations and being agile in finding solutions that are more convenient, user-friendly and exceed the customers’ expectations. For example, when we saw an influx of customer COVID-19 enquiries about port regulations, we responded within 48 hours by creating a user-friendly interactive map with consolidated updates across our network. Over the last 4 months, the map has already garnered close to 500,000 unique visitors and 1.2M views with several requests from media and maritime regulators. We have had 230,000 more sales enquiries coming in from the map, and services many new customers who had now known about us till they visited the map.
Technology can be a powerful enabler when used in the right context, and one must be imaginative and creative in how to use it in different scenarios. Sometimes, this also means to think outside the (maritime) box by collaborating with other industries outside of maritime. This enables you to learn their best practices and new ways of working – leveraging their strengths and combining it with our own competencies to co-create innovative solutions to the problems our customers are facing,” Marius ends.
About the Wilhelmsen group
Founded in 1861, the Wilhelmsen group operates the largest maritime network on the planet, with over 2 200 locations worldwide. Delivering market-leading products and services to over half of the world’s merchant fleet, they also supply best in class crew and technical management to the biggest and most complex vessels currently at sea. Consistently developing innovative, customer-focused and sustainable solutions, the Wilhelmsen group is taking an active role in shaping the maritime industry for the future. In addition, through investments they are exploring new opportunities, with new partners, within the renewable energy, alternative fuels, offshore and technology industries. With thousands of colleagues in more than 70 countries, the Wilhelmsen group takes competence, compliance, sustainability, innovation and unparalleled customer experiences one step further.