Leading companies in the logistics sector realise that, in order to promote a customer-centred philosophy and offer the highest standard of services, they must focus on technology.
Consequently, for the last decade or more, Orient Overseas Container Line (OOCL) Limited has been investing heavily in the development of their own software and an integrated regional information system.
"We have always focused on giving our customers the services they need and adding value at every step of the shipping process," says Ken Chih, director and chief information officer of OOCL Limited.
The introduction of the company's IRIS-2 system in 1999 was a big step forward.
Previously, they had stove piped mainframe applications to manage operations, but IRIS-2 was a completely customised system which integrated end-to-end processes through object-oriented (OO) technology. It used Smalltalk and Java as the programming language and greatly increased both efficiency and accuracy.
"When developing systems, our priority is to understand what customers require and how we can provide it," Mr Chih explains. This policy guided the IT development team when they started work on the CargoSmart software, which was introduced in 2000. Using service-oriented architecture (SOA), the objective was to allow customers to manage their own shipments across multiple carriers, process relevant data, and have complete visibility for each consignment. Customers had been asking for more Web-based services and CargoSmart was designed to meet that demand.
"The trend was obvious in the banking industry where clients were able to do transactions at ATMs or over the Internet," Mr Chih says. "Our systems have empowered customers in the logistics industry in the same way."
New functions are continuously being developed. For example, customers can now print bills of lading — documents which detail the legal terms of shipment — in their own offices. In the past, these would have been collected in person from OOCL or delivered by courier. Now, it is possible to print a secure "Trust Copy" at any time and, if necessary, anywhere in the world.
"We are definitely leading on the IT side of the industry," says Mr Chih. "CargoSmart is currently the only business to business platform with partner relationship management. Customers can even change the destination of a shipment without going through our customer service team." That is just one reason the portal has an average of over 45,000 users today.
OOCL runs five international IT development centres, employing around 750 experts in San Jose, Shanghai, Manila, Hong Kong and Zhuhai. "In the early days, we had to rely heavily on the team in San Jose because it was difficult to find people in Hong Kong familiar with OO technology," says Warren Ma, assistant general manager of the information services department. "Today, with a stronger focus on IT at local universities, Hong Kong is providing a lot of talent."
The company can now find people familiar with object-oriented languages like C#, .Net and Java in Shanghai and Zhuhai. "If they have a level of basic knowledge, we can train them up in the proper ways of doing things," adds Mr Chih.
Graduate recruits go through a comprehensive two-year training programme and, in fact, the current head of technical services in Hong Kong and the head of the San Jose IT development centre both started in that way. The programme consists of five modules focusing on topics such as technology and project management. Upon completion, staff receive ongoing training in leadership, teamwork and management skills.
"Our message is that, for people who want to know about OO and SOA development, then OOCL is the place to be," says Mr Chih. "However, they must have technological know-how and a business mindset in order to understand customers and operators, because we are building technology specifically for the business," Mr Ma adds.
- IT development has become the key to improving customer service
- Operations software developed in-house has brought increased efficiency and accuracy
- CargoSmart software helps clients to manage their own shipping needs
- Five international development centres are working on the latest advances
- Graduate recruits require strong technical ability and must have good business sense