The global dry bulk company Western Bulks main office is located in Oslo, and it is also represented in Singapore, Seattle, Santiago and Casablanca. The company has a portfolio of ships that are leased for transport for different clients worldwide, either by contract or on the spot market for dry bulk. In short: Western Bulk matches cargo with vessel for an optimal transport service.
In 2018, Western Bulks fleet of 151 vessels transported 37,6 million tons for more than 300 cargo customers worldwide!
Dry bulk is everything from steel to ready-made products, that come in “bulk”. It can be coal, cement, minerals, grains or fertilizers. Western Bulk has 120 employees globally, of whom 60 work at the Oslo headquarters.
Western Bulk has Visolit as their technology partner and IT-operations provider, a relationship that begun in 2014, and which has newly been renewed for a further 3 years.
Western Bulk is innovative and has taken great steps on the technology front over the past few years. Head of Technology and Digital Strategy in Western Bulk, Martin Hjelle, emphasizes that the journey to the cloud is essential for the agility and fresh ideas in Western Bulk.
Hjelle has helped the company boost its technology, processes and culture, and Visolit has assisted Western Bulk with the cloud journey. -We have raised the company to a level befitting a global company. We operate in a competitive and global industry, where change is the only constant. For this reason, systems, culture and technology must be rigged for future opportunities, says Hjelle.
Dry Bulk is changing
The dry bulk industry is becoming more transparent, and the knowledge we used to have about the market and which was unique, is now more visible to others and has become a “commodity”. In the container business one might calculate the cost of freighting a container from port to port. In bulk it is not as straightforward. Our industry is also being digitized, and to survive in this business one must work in smart and efficient ways, says Hjelle.
My role as Head of Technology is two-fold, it is about both “exploit” and “explore”. It is about exploiting the existing and improve it, and to optimize the business model of today. How can we improve and simplify the infrastructure, and make the systems more stable, robust and better? To explore is about finding new ways to work, new business models, testing a completely different mindset. The key is the future oriented approach, Hjelle explains.
Invests in innovation and technology
Western Bulk has over the past few years modernized their systems with the market leading systems, at the same time as the company is investing in future opportunities and are future oriented. Our strategy is to simplify and strengthen, so that systems will be easier to integrate in existing systems.
Full flexibility with Visolit
Hjelle underlines that flexibility is essential for Western Bulk, and that the company therefore chose Visolit as a technology partner. -Our explorative mindset presupposes flexibility, and we needed a partner that would not treat us as “one size fits all”, in a time where the company and industry is constantly changing. We need the agility to move faster than others. We chose a strategic partner in Visolit, and it is not a commodity to us. We did not want to commit to one particular cloud provider or platform. That can be challenging for the supplier, both in terms of competencies, in terms of making changes in its own organization and in terms of being willing to partake in a journey. The pace of change is essential, as we have completed many changes over the past few years.
We have applied the cloud services in Microsoft Office 365, and the interaction-based tools in Teams has launced. One Drive, Sharepoint, Exchange Online, use of Flow and Forms are other changes we have applied. Our core systems have been moved to the cloud, and all systems are integrated, which is easier to do in the cloud. In the past, we had to invest time in order to plan testing and deployments, while now the focus has moved to which functionality we want to develop, and to supplier management. We have managed to shift the focus from operations to smarter and more innovative ways to work, says Hjelle.
Visolit supplies the cloud services in Microsoft Azure, in addition to several services on cloud optimization, backup, network, certificates as well as customer service 24/7.
Knowledgeable customer service determining factor
Visolits customer service was a determining factor for choosing Visolit. -Customer Service is essential to us, as we are a global operatør with activity 24/7. We depend on a professional and knowledgeable customer service which is always available. Certified customer service with knowledgeable operators was important to us when choosing Visolit. The vessels never stop, and never take holidays, which is why we need a customer service that is rigged for exactly that. We needed a partner that had the ability to build competencies to give the optimal support when we need it. At the same time, it was important to us that our employees would get assistance through chat options, Hjelle explains.
Hjelle says Western Bulk wants to spend its time on strategic improvements for customer service. We leave the customer support to Visolit, in order to identify trendlines for the types of support that matters most to Western Bulk.
Hjelle explains that both Western Bulk and Visolit forgo the traditional operational meetings, and that the collaboration is more focused on identifying opportunities for improvements. -We have technology- and improvement meetings with Visolit, where we focus on new products, innovations and change opportunities. That is future oriented collaboration, says Hjelle.
Nordic Director of Customer Services in Visolit, Odd Fronth-Andersen, says that working with Western bulk is both rewarding and developing. -Together with Western bulk, we have further improved our way of working with skills and skill improvements. We have in close dialogue compiled a “certified skill” -setup for all our support teams working with Western Bulk. We must have a good understanding of the company and the industry, but also understand the customers future oriented mindset with cloud based services. We applied several different methods for learning, like for example classroom teaching, e-learning and case-solving, and concluded with an “exam”. We have also emphasized communication via chat 24/7, as this was important for Western Bulk.
Western Bulk is a company that is genuinely concerned with service, improvements and development. The collaboration with Western Bulk is important to us, and has given us a strong opportunity to further improve as a knowledge- and support partner for our customers, says Fronth-Andersen.
Hjelle has a background as a consultant, and has previously worked with business and innovation in several industries. He is a civil engineer, with the direction industrial economy and computer science.
Hjelles advice to anyone who wants to stay updated and keep their knowledge current, is to be curious. -When I hire new employees, I usually ask: “What is the most recent knowledge you have acquired? “ It is advantageous to be up to date on what is relevant in the cloud, take web based classes and be “hands on” when it comes to technology, continues Hjelle. Western Bulk is now hiring its very own cloud architect, to speed up the exploration of opportunities in architecture.
We can purchase many systems that shows signals on what is going on in the market, but if we really want to become data driven in business, we have to connect the signals, systems and data to our model so that we can predict our situation and opportunities going forward.
The risk we are willing to take tomorrow, is connected to the risk we have today. We will build systems also in Amazon WS and we need a partner who can make sure all goes to plan regardless of cloud platform. That partner is Visolit, says Hjelle.