We don’t know when humans first took to the sea, nor can historians state with absolute confidence the first vessel to sail the deep waters.
By 1000 BCE however, Austronesians in Island Southeast Asia were already engaging in regular maritime trade with China, South Asia and the Middle East.
Maritime is considered one of the oldest industries on the planet, with those operating within it currently transitioning from tradition to technology in the pursuit of future growth.
Singapore-based Amos Group is one such organisation, attempting to forge a new digitalised path through a reinvention of value chain processes. Founded in 1974, the business is listed on the Singapore Stock Exchange (SGX), operating as a marine transportation supplier with expertise in procurement, logistics and supply chain.
“Shipping and maritime, being one of the oldest businesses, has been very conservative in its value chain processes,” said Quinny Lei, vice president of Group IT at Amos Group. “It’s a huge leap to bring the industry up to another level while business peers remain traditional. This also reflects the opportunity of first mover advantage and leading with technology innovation.”
The business appointed CFO Dan Tan Song Boon as CEO in August 2019, following the departure of Perry Kennedy. During his 16-month tenure, Kennedy led the expansion of Amos through the acquisition of industry peer Amos International Holdings (AIH) in October 2018, in addition to helping reduce total inventories, rightsizing Singapore properties and reducing debt.
Aligned to a global blueprint, Dan Tan assumed overall responsibility for investing in a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) digital platform, alongside strengthening global customer network capabilities and driving facility modernisation across 12 international locations.
Amos currently operates production, logistics and fulfilment centres across Asia, the Middle East and Europe. A new facility also recently opened in Hong Kong amid plans to expand existing capabilities in Johor, Malaysia.
With ambitions to build a “sturdy platform” leveraging SAP technologies, in partnership with IBM, Lei said Amos is attempting to create a modern technology offering capable of enhancing shipping platform integration, designed with artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and robotic process automation (RPA) as anchor points.
“We are implementing our ERP platform with AI in place,” explained Lei, recently recognised in the CIO50 in ASEAN. “We have incorporated the design to learn customer spending patterns to enable our sales support team to quote faster and accurately, in order for us to secure greater win ratios in the tender process.
“In my opinion, AI and machine learning are the most disruptive technologies in the market today and have enormous influence in accelerating the business to the next level of digitalisation.”
Central to such efforts is optimising integration with ShipServ – a UK-based marine and offshore online trading platform and search engine – to increase efficiencies and speed of transactions when responding to user requests.
Integrating with ShipServ has created economies of scale for Amos Group as it handles increase numbers of RFQs (requests for quotation) and transactions.
The project will possess a direct integration link between the marketplace portal and internal ERP systems to streamline processing times and support business growth. Alongside AI and machine learning elements, hybrid cloud technologies have also been maximised to support package flows while achieving higher conversion rates.
“We measure the level of success in the adoption of technologies through customer experience and capabilities to enable business growth,” Lei added. “We have close ties with our customers and are constantly seeking valuable feedback and look for areas of improvement through collaboration and partnership.
“We have seen receptiveness by customers following the integrations we put in place, which are designed to create the connectivity of streaming the business and enhancing response times.
“Using IoT [internet of things], such as mobile and scanners, to carry out electronic proof-of-delivery for customers has also seen improvement through paperless interaction.”
Alongside prioritising the completion of the ERP roll-out, Lei said key priorities in 2020 centre around synchronising network forest architecture and implementing SD-WAN capabilities. Furthermore, the business is tapping into RPA solutions to reduce repetition and manpower activities through RFQ processes.
“Digital innovation should not be seen as cost,” Lei added. “It is creating a leeway for revenue growth and without such initiatives, businesses soon perish. A company who can stay afloat 15 years ago may not be sustained if it stops innovating.
“The drive comes from not just customer experience but also employee experience, with technology enabling employee talent and retention. Our business leaders no longer need to be convinced to innovate through technology.”
Reporting into the CEO, Lei runs the global IT office comprising five core technology pillars: enterprise application; IT security, network and infrastructure; operations; e-commerce, and the company’s Centre of Excellence.
Prior to Lei joining the business in June 2018, IT was structured as two teams operating two separate divisions.
“My role involved reorganising the department, starting with rewriting and communicating new job descriptions to each team member,” Lei said. “I was tasked with growing the workforce talent and evaluating a ‘one source of truth’ platform for the business. This ran on nine different applications, two different domains and two different email platforms.”
Furthermore, Lei was charged with driving the unification of network and infrastructure operations, as well as writing and implementing IT policies within the business. Building a Centre of Excellence was also an agenda item, alongside introducing IT audits, hardware standardisation, SLA (service-level agreement) implementation and ecosystem security enhancements.
“I view challenges as opportunities and the biggest opportunity for CIOs today is perhaps around data security and protection,” she said. “Data breaches are viewed as one of the leading technology threats and we must not let it slip through our eyes.
“The more we try to secure, the more potential there is of becoming penetrated, which is especially the case in an industry hosting sensitive information.”
Fast forward to today and Lei is balancing keeping the lights on with innovating through digitalisation and customer experience.
“This is a partnership with the business,” she said. “CIOs need to be well informed, passionate about technologies and the beauty of innovation. CIOs today no longer sit in the office and run the IT, we are outgoing and exchange stories with peers.”