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Port Khalid — Sharjah Container Terminal Image Credit: Gulftainer

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David Casey, Chief Commercial Officer, Gulftainer Group, talks about Sharjah’s potential as a destination for the logistics sector and offers tips for technologists hoping to make a mark in the maritime and shipping sector

Sharjah is emerging as a go-to destination for the logistics sector. What in your eyes are the emirate’s main competitive advantages and how can these positives be fully capitalised upon?

Sharjah benefits from several competitive advantages over other emirates and other countries in the region. Sharjah’s economy weathered the oil price shock better than the most of its peers, underscoring its resilience. The economy of Sharjah is highly diversified by regional standards, with oil and gas contributing less than 6 per cent to GDP, and no individual sector accounting for more than 20 per cent. The emirate has had success in developing its industrial and manufacturing sector through a network of free zones and industrial zones that continues to develop and expand, and it is one of the main industrial bases of the UAE.

The authorities have also been taking a range of measures to boost foreign investment flows, supported by an attractive national business environment and competitive advantages, such as Sharjah’s comparatively low operating costs. The cities of the UAE complement each other in terms of economic structures and investment opportunities, and Sharjah benefits from being one of the most diversified markets in the region and a stable investment environment.

Sharjah also benefits from strong connectivity and infrastructure of its own. In addition, it hosts its own airport and is home to several ports, including Khorfakkan, which is located on the Gulf of Oman and therefore has the advantage of being located outside the Straits of Hormuz, passage through which adds time and insurance costs for shipping.

A key component of Sharjah’s economy is its network of free zones and industrial zones. Two major free zones — which offer advantages such as 100 per cent foreign ownership — are the Hamriyah Free Zone (HFZ), adjacent to Hamriyah Port, and the Sharjah Airport International Free Zone (SAIF Zone), next to the airport. The main focus in both zones is industry, with more of a concentration of medium-to-heavy industry in the HFZ. Sharjah is also developing new free zones with non-industrial focuses to further support the growth and diversification of its economy.

David Casey_web
David Casey, Chief Commercial Officer, Gulftainer Group

Entrepreneurs constantly look out for that one fix that will set them up for life in a business of their choosing. With shipping and logistics offering so many avenues for growth, what is your advice as an industry pioneer for a technologist hoping to make a mark in the vertical here in the UAE?

When it comes to technology, our industry is known to be a bit slow to change. We often witness a lack of standards and industry-wide agreements coupled with other challenges such as the cost and complexity of legacy systems, poor coordination between partners, absence of real-time data access and data sharing, poor cargo flow visibility, and predictability. Technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Autonomous Drones, Internet of Things (IoT), Robo-Doctors, and Blockchain Solutions can address some of these challenges.

These technologies can help us prepare for future pandemics and recessions by giving us the necessary tools to focus on foresight rather than hindsight, i.e., on optimisation rather than information. For instance, BlockChain, Machine learning, and Artificial Intelligence can help us collect valuable data across the supply chain, give us previously unavailable insights, and help us look at things prescriptively rather than predictably or diagnostically. Robots can deal with massive staffing shortages in healthcare, manufacturing, and supply chains, the need for social distancing, and diagnosis and treatment.

At Gulftainer, we have invested heavily in our IT capabilities. We continuously strive to provide best-in-class IT services to ensure smooth operations and help customers who have become mainly digital.

Apart from investing in new technologies, companies today must develop a culture within their employees, which recognises and rewards innovation. Today, through Gulftainer’s Innovation Program, which is based on idea sharing and developing an entrepreneurial culture throughout our portfolio, every employee in our company is geared towards thinking outside the box or as per one of Gulftainer’s corporate values, “Thinking outside the Container”.

In the end, it is all about providing practical solutions that can assist companies to improve their business continuously, in the form of service or process improvements.

In your view how has the UAE maritime industry managed to maneuver through the pandemic?

The Covid-19 crisis hit at the time when most of the regional economies are either in the process of transforming their oil dependent economies or planning to do so. For instance, Saudi Arabia Vision 2030, Qatar National Vision 2030, Oman Vision 2040, Abu Dhabi 2030, and Dubai 2040 Vision all aim to diversify the economy by expanding industries and services and investing in world-class infrastructure. When economies are so heavily dependent on the transport and logistics industry for recovery, the pressure is on for port operators like us to ramp up the game. This is where technology plays a key role to differentiate us from the competition. Our latest strategies will be heavily driven by technology and digital solutions to our customers.