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DP World UAE Region pushes digitalisation to enable smart global trade

DP World UAE Region pushes digitalisation to enable smart global trade

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DP World UAE Region, is the premier maritime gateway and hub to a region of more than three billion people. As the region’s frontline trade enabler, DP World UAE Region is home to the flagship Jebel Ali Port, a maritime commercial gateway and hub to the Middle East region. Today, the company offers integrated solutions to global companies doing business across the region. Ibrahim Al Najjar, IT Director, DP World UAE Region, tells Intelligent CIO Middle East, how the company is pushing digitalisation to facilitate smart and innovative global trade.

Take us through DP World’s IT infrastructure and why it is critical for the company to implement digitalisation and innovation across your entire operations in the UAE?

It is DP World’s vision to ‘Lead the Smart Transformation’ in its ports and logistics hub. Every move the company makes represents an additional step towards achieving this vision and advancing its IT infrastructure to the next level.

The IT department of DP World in the UAE is a pioneer in business enablement and enrichment through technology, continuous exploration of new digital solutions and implementation of the latest disruptive innovations in the trade and logistics industry.

The digitalisation and innovative solutions that a customer experiences with us today, is a result of continuous investment in this direction over the decades. The mere realisation of the criticality that technological advancement brought with it at the right time made all the difference for our organisation to stay ahead.

What is DP World UAE Region’s IT transformation strategy from port managers to global trade enablers all about?

Our daily lives have been transformed by technology and these technological transformations are bound to be adopted at various levels of business operations, whether locally or internationally.

The industries that we operate in have been transformed, disrupted and improved through the smart solutions DP World has introduced over the past decades. As an organisation, we moved forward with the goal of “building an ecosystem for the future”. Whether it was movement of goods, logistics solutions, industrial/real estate solutions, digital services or customised end-to-end solutions, everything revolved around technological innovations. Another important step was the organisation’s integrated product offerings. We aimed to become not only port and terminal operators but developed free zones, business parks and logistic services that provided multimodal connectivity and a one-stop platform for all transport, industrial and logistic solutions.

Our flagship Jebel Ali Port and Jebel Ali Free Zone both play an important role in bringing together DP World’s vision, purpose and identity as a “global trade enabler”.

With multiple options for IT Solutions available in the market, how did you identify the right technology to enable DP World UAE Region’s IT transformation strategy?

At DP World, we are great believers in a solutions-based approach than a problem-based approach to challenges. Nothing is impossible. More than 20 years ago, DP World recognised the transformative role of technology when we boosted productivity at Jebel Ali Port with the “quad lift” quay crane that can unload four twenty-foot containers (TEU) at once. Subsequently, with the meteoric rise of digital technology, we dedicated time and resources on digitalisation across all our activities. The adoption of cloud technology ensures networked operations are uniform, adding enormously to efficiency.

Can you elaborate on the technologies currently being used at DP World UAE Region?

In March 2021, DP World implemented the Zodiac terminal operating system (TOS) in Jebel Ali Port’s Container Terminal 3 (CT3). The latest version implemented represents a quantum leap with 100% automation, delivering a world-class success story. CT3 has now become one of the most sophisticated and intelligent port terminals, comparable to the best in the world.

Zodiac’s digital system, developed by DP World teams, consists of 18 internal integrated systems, including the cranes’ automation system and berth planning. It also manages the rail and inland container depot, provides full fleet management and control of the container freight station. Zodiac provides real-time container location tracking, clearance and delivery with billing systems, driven by IoT technology.

Another DP World innovation, CARGOES Finance, is a good example of the new suite of enterprise and trade solutions we have invested in. The platform enables trade finance solutions for our customers, in partnership with banks and non-banking financial companies (NBFCs). Clients can select the most suitable finance product available to meet their needs for working capital at competitive rates.

CARGOES Runner is another innovative DP World offering. It is an Enterprise Resource Planning suite that helps small and medium-sized freight forwarders to manage enterprise level operations efficiently.

How important is it for the company to have robust and secure IT infrastructure and systems?

The words supply chain helps us understand that the trade and logistics industry is nothing but a very large system that follows many complicated steps and processes to ensure that the “chain” does not break. Anything that threatens the security of the IT infrastructure threatens the chain itself. Continuity in business and operations should be maintained at all costs. At DP World UAE Region, this is taken very seriously.

It is our top priority that our business units, customers, stakeholders, employees, and every person associated with DP World, experiences a robust and secure IT connection. While we keep our IT infrastructure strong through continuous initiatives and best-in-class security tools, we also ensure a coordinated approach with the IT systems of our customers.

The role of a CIO/ IT Director/IT Head etc is constantly evolving with more C-level and business line executives getting involved in making IT purchasing decisions. How hard is it for you to get the correct support and buy-in from your C-Suite peers at DP World, UAE Region?

DP World works as one unit. Whether it is me playing the role of an IT Director or my C-Suite peers leading purchasing decisions, it has been in our common interest to work towards what’s best for the organisation.

From top-level management to every employee associated, everyone is aligned with the company’s goals for innovation and digitalisation even before the pandemic occurred – an important reason why Business Continuity was not a big challenge for us to overcome.

How is the company adopting and using technologies like AI, robotics, blockchain, IoT and automation to enhance its services and operations?

AI, robotics, Blockchain, IoT, automation, cloud, 5G, Big Data, etc are some of the digitalisation tools identified very early by DP World and deployed across our assets to achieve next-generation automation and efficiency. We accelerated the already planned roll-out of the platforms to help companies meet the challenges of the Covid-19 crisis. Our vision is to digitalise supply chains leveraging our worldwide infrastructure of ports, terminals, economic zones and other assets.

Our new platforms are moving the management of moving cargo online. It will enable our customers to be more efficient and increase the visibility and predictability of supply chains.

Where is the company at in terms of its Digital Transformation journey and what is the digital roadmap for Jafza managed by DP World UAE Region?

Digital Transformation in the whole Middle East is garnering more importance by the day. With trade and logistics embracing the changes of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, DP World UAE Region too is evolving every day.

The recently published Trade in Transition report, commissioned by DP World, found that almost everyone of the companies surveyed was embracing at least one new technology, including cloud computing, as they planned forward from the pandemic.

Jafza, DP World’s flagship free zone, is an integrated and important part of our transformation journey. The digital initiatives taken by Jafza impact all the 9,000 plus customers from every sector associated with the free zone. The impact is further felt by the 3.5 billion people in economies across the region connected to the Jafza ecosystem.

At the moment, with Etisalat’s partnership, Jafza has been able to portray how 5G technology can revolutionise the way companies operating in the free zone will do business in the future. Our world-class plug-and-play infrastructure connects traders globally through Jebel Ali Port and its Smart Trade solutions.

The digital roadmap for Jafza is simple and embraces frontier technologies to continuously enable smart trade capabilities across our business portfolio.

What do you see as the biggest challenge that the company faces on its Digital Transformation journey in the Middle East?

Globally, 90% of everything consumed today is traded across boundaries. This huge volume of trading results in multiple transactions at various levels. DP World UAE Region identifies itself as a smart trade enabler and believes challenges are opportunities to achieve the best smartly. A major part of our smart trade consists of continuously introducing technological advancements and innovations to help simplify this huge volume of trade across the globe.

As a global logistics business spanning six continents, DP World is committed to creating long-term partnerships that help to solve cargo movement challenges, deliver consistency and drive value and growth.

Technology architecture, business, IT and operations need to be modern and flexible, and they must work together in different ways. Many companies in the UAE and the Middle East are still following traditional operating models. For companies like DP World, UAE Region following lean and agile models, it is a challenge to move these traditional players into the new era of conducting trade and logistics business. We overcome this challenge with a simple way forward – if our customer does not have a system, we will build one. We are engaged in large customer testing of an in-house, global track-and-trace programme we call Cargoes Flow and also an enterprise resource planning (ERP) tool called Cargoes Runner. Both are built entirely from the ground up, using 100% DP World resources.

How do you see DP World evolving in the next 24 months and what role do you want the company to play in enhancing Dubai’s economic standing in the region?

The industry at large is getting in on the broader trend of Digital Transformation, by using new platforms and technologies that significantly enhance supply chain visibility and, therefore, efficiency. The pandemic has provided the impetus we all were waiting for, so much so 96% of Middle Eastern companies are reconfiguring their supply chain. More than 50% of these firms are looking at time horizon of 12 to 24 months to complete their reconfiguration processes.

Our efforts are in line with the UAE’s 2030 digital goals, reinforcing the economy of the country and aiding the industry. Frontline technologies such as robotics, automation, IoT, Big Data, virtual reality and cybersecurity play an integral role in helping DP World UAE Region build and sustain operational efficiencies. In the coming years, our investments in these frontline technologies will keep increasing to harness its full potential.

At DP World UAE Region, enabling smart trade is paramount to what we do, and technology has fuelled our growth and reinforced our capabilities. Smarter trade drives global economic growth and social progress. It helps regions and nations grow, supports businesses, creates jobs and raises living standards. Every initiative that we take enhances Dubai and the UAE’s economic standing. Jafza currently contributes 23.8% of Dubai’s GDP and facilitates trade value of US$99.5 billion.

How has technology made a positive impact on businesses as well as on people’s life and the community as a whole?

The COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns and disruptions to our lives have forever changed the way businesses operate. The pandemic has given the Digital Transformation process a much-needed boost. A good example is the retail business. Consumers around the world are today more comfortable doing their shopping online than going to the shop.

For businesses, e-commerce is the way forward. According to market research firm eMarketer, worldwide retail e-commerce sales posted a 27.6% growth rate in 2020, with sales reaching well over US$4 trillion. The global e-commerce market is expected to touch US$5 trillion in 2021 and US$6.4 trillion by 2024, as customers everywhere become accustomed to getting what they want sitting at home, day or night. The shifting shopping habits are enabled by popular digital gadgets like your smartphone and iPad. Both businesses and consumers find that smart technology benefits them by reducing cost and time.

How has DP World’s Digital Transformation helped it in a crisis of the global pandemic?

DP World’s experience since the start of this extraordinary period shows that technology saved the day for businesses around the world. Our own strategy enabled us to provide Business Continuity to our customers and supported the wider community in its hour need. We used frontline technologies to build and sustain our efficiencies during the lockdowns. Customers, from shipping lines to freight forwarders, cargo agents and BCOs have benefited from the ease with which they could continue to operate despite closed offices.

Some of the specific measures taken on the technological front include:

  • Dubai Trade’s Electronic Delivery Order or E-DO that has eliminated all paperwork, minimised clearance turnaround time and improved efficiencies along the supply chain
  • An integrated single widow system called ZADI that offers automated end-to-end support to the F&B sector and is now integral to the UAE’s Food Security programme
  • Manasah, a digital e-commerce platform for UAE-based SMEs, allowed small traders to reach consumers and partners remotely
  • DP World’s booking tools landrates.com, searates.com and airrates.com connect shipping agents and BCOs when they worked from home
  • Our Digital Freight Alliance now provides seamless services as a global platform for freight forwarders everywhere
  • TradeLens, a block chain-based digital container logistics platform with which our global operations are now integrated

How has COVID-19 impacted the future technology initiatives for the trade and logistics industry overall?

There is no doubt that COVID-19 slowed down global trade and slowed down globalisation. The pandemic has demonstrated that we must do all we can to make supply chains stronger to keep trade flowing, even in times of unprecedented challenges.

The pandemic has strengthened the case for digitalisation and the elimination of paperwork in the shipping industry. The industry as a whole requires further investments in digitalisation and automation. 67% of businesses globally said their top priority was to increase control of their supply chain and this truth must guide us as we move forward.

DP World believes that control can be achieved with bringing about changes in the below areas over the next one to two years:

  • Diversification of supply chain
  • Digitalisation of supply chain
  • Making supply chains more sustainable
  • Increasing intra-regional trade

Constant risk assessment is another important habit that the logistics business needs to implement. We believe in diversifying our portfolio into emerging, as well as priority sectors due to the pandemic. Looking ahead, we remain focused on delivering integrated supply chain solutions to cargo owners to drive growth and returns. Our focus will always be on bringing the best to our customers and partners and being committed to the goals of Dubai and the UAE.

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