BIG BUSINESS

Saudi Arabia 2017 | TRANSPORT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Wael M. Al-Sarhan, Senior Vice President-Marketing at Bahri, on a successful 2016, the use of big data, and plans for the future.

 Wael M. Al-Sarhan
BIOGRAPHY
Wael M. Al-Sarhan has over 10 years of experience spanning multiple industry sectors. He currently serves as Senior Vice President-Marketing at Bahri. He also serves as a board member of Saudi Paper Group and has held senior positions in several prestigious and renowned organizations in Saudi Arabia before moving to Bahri.

Considering the global decline in the shipping industry, the bankruptcy of Hanjin Lines, and the general malaise of global trade, Bahri had an excellent 2016 with only a slight drop in profit and a slightly larger drop in revenues. How did you achieve this performance?

Bahri managed to achieve strong results during 2016 owing to the successful deployment of its business expansion strategy and enhancing its operational efficiency to keep pace with developments in the maritime transport sector in the region and the world. Despite lower spot market rates, a 14% increase in fleet with the addition of 10 new vessels, and enhancement of cost efficiencies resulting in a decrease in daily ship running costs all contributed to the overall performance.

Your key cargo is oil and chemicals, but you have made a few recent moves to expand in breakbulk and dry bulk, such as a JV with Bunge. What do these recent moves imply about your shipping mix?

Bahri is a global leader in transportation and logistics, and prides itself on offering a range of services and solutions across the board. Bahri currently has six business units providing diverse services that include transportation of crude oil, oil products, chemicals, bulk, and general cargo, in addition to ship management and big data solutions for the maritime industry. Each of these business units are independent of each other and have their individual strategic objectives and goals. The market dynamics, consumer demand, opportunities, and challenges for each vary; however, we are resilient in our focus on constantly upgrading our services and continuous value creation for customers, shareholders, and employees.

You recently signed a logistics agreement with SAR. How will this arrangement expand your logistics arm?

As part of the agreement, Bahri Logistics will provide SAR with transportation services for all types of cargo from around the world, as well as customs clearance support. This will help further strengthen and expand our services, while generating constant revenues.

You also have a data unit. What is the concept behind this creation and what insights has it yielded?

The use of big data in shipping is very much in its infancy, for many reasons, namely limited communications capabilities, reliance on niche market applications, as well as a reluctance to modernize. So clearly, while the application of large amounts of data to operational improvement is beginning to grow in importance, this is a technology still in the “early adopter” stage, and Bahri is one of the few maritime firms globally that can count themselves among this early group. At Bahri, we believe that it is important to stay at the forefront of the development of big data technologies in order to ensure our industry leadership position by leveraging the benefits of changes in the market as they occur. It is no secret that ships generate terabytes of data but the main concern is that this valuable data is not mined or assessed, and hence no actionable insights are drawn that could be used for important decision-making. Bahri is in the process and has embarked on the journey by building a new infrastructure platform called Bigdata Resource Integrated Sea Operations (BRISO), leveraging all of the data created by the company's ships during operations, its interactions with third parties, as well as the activities going on in its shore offices.

What are your plans and expectations for the year ahead?

As we head in the second half of 2017, our main focus rests on continuously improving our performance across all fronts, aimed at benefiting all our stakeholders. To achieve this, we will continue to innovate and deliver big data solutions to provide value-added onshore and offshore services, ensure fleet optimization, and maximize profits. Consolidation, diversification, and increasing capacity are also key elements of our growth plans. While oil and chemicals are key cargos for us, we will continue to increase our focus on breakbulk and dry bulk transportation and ship management services.