Navigating a disruptive market with innovative methodologies

By CargoSmart

Thanks to digital innovation, disruption is now pervasive, with no industry escaping its influence. Being incumbent or relying on traditional barriers to entry is no longer enough. If you are not looking to disrupt, you are in danger of being disrupted.

To disrupt, you need to rewire the way your firm innovates, designs products, and addresses challenges. It requires a modern approach to developing software that puts the customer at the center.

This is the situation that CargoSmart faced. Responsible for developing and delivering solutions for the ocean container shipping industry, where ocean carriers have an average annual revenue of around US$180 billion and over 7,000 container ships, the company wanted to become more agile to customer demands and future proof itself.

At its recent Digital Innovation Conference, held on September 2, 2017, company representatives highlighted the value of using agile and lean development techniques to address the dynamic needs of the global market. The event was supported by Pivotal, Microsoft, Apigee Owned by Google), HKIE and HKCS.

This year, the theme of the annual event was Digital Innovation. “We are putting focus on the ‘How’ rather than ‘What’ and ‘Why’ of Digital Transformation. We will drill down on the essential development capabilities and organizational environment that help fuel innovation,” said Lionel Louie, Chief Commercial Officer at CargoSmart, in his welcome keynote.

“CargoSmart’s vision is to connect, we have been in the business of connecting shippers to carriers for over 16 years. We are relentlessly innovating ourselves so that our customers can make connections much easier, they are able to connect siloed shipping data so that they can gain more insights into their supply chain,” he added.

Propelling success with agile + lean

Rob Mee, CEO at Pivotal began the conference with a call for companies to relook at how development needs to become modernized. He championed the combination of agile methodologies and lean startup techniques to help firms stay optimized for change. He also highlighted how this approach has helped companies like GE transform into a software company, Ford to become a mobility company, and Allstate to expand fast using software.

In their presentation Transform the Way to Build Valuable Software – Evolutionary Product Development Process, the company’s product team highlighted the benefits of adopting lean with agile.

Led by Andrew Donohue, Director of Cost at CargoSmart and Sara Krishnan, Senior Consultant at CargoSmart, they noted that the lean product methodology has helped CargoSmart to mitigate risk and reduce waste through constant validated learning. These included an iterative design, risk minimization and having the ability to pivot when necessary. With agile, the team noted that individuals and interactions, working software, customer collaboration and responding to changes become important priorities in software development.

Put together, with the help of their software partner Pivotal, they noted that agile improved the way people worked. It helped to foster collaboration, at a sustainable pace and promoted shared ownership. The net result is that the team is also able to deliver the software faster, iterate based on actual user needs, continuously learn from the market and address issues from diverse perspectives.

Re-imagining new horizons

New software development techniques were also used as a result of combining both agile and lean methodologies. While the team still continued its daily and weekly meetings, the team also experimented with pair programming, where programmers worked on code in two’s, and refactoring where duplicate (DRY) and complex code, along with long methods, were eliminated. Some of these were showcased during the conference.

A testing process called Test-Driven Development (TDD) began before coding. By writing test scripts ahead, it made the final product inherently testable. It also improved the final product’s ability to meet requirements and acceptance criteria. The product team further used automated tests to improve the quality of the finished product.

CargoSmart benefited greatly with this modern approach to software development. It was able to de-risk the entire development process, enjoy full transparency, and quickly adapt to dynamic user behaviors and needs.

A significant change was in code ownership. Unlike traditional programming, no single programmer owned a piece of the final code. The entire code belonged with the whole team, and anyone in the team can amend or edit the code as needed. This removed a big bottleneck where the availability of a single person to amend parts of the code can slow down an entire project. Overall, the collective ownership approach helped to improve technical skills and code coverage of the team.

Value of automation

Automation played a significant role in ensuring that the code is working properly. CargoSmart used automated tools to verify and track problems. It helped the team to identify problem areas early in the development process, and isolate them before they impacted the rest of the software. Essentially, automation helped the firm to speed up product release and ensure that the application was ready to deploy and run from the start.

Overall, CargoSmart was able to adopt a more agile mindset. It became more focused on customer needs and results. It also helped the firm to redefine existing processes for efficiency.

Staff gained as well. The transformation helped to drive staff engagement, improve their performance and elevated operational execution. It also introduced better functional alignment and helped to start cross-functional collaboration.

Steering toward new horizons

To compete in an unpredictable, commoditized and operationally complex industry, CargoSmart looked to embrace digital transformation. Essentially, it wanted to connect all its businesses and partners using APIs and microservices.

In their presentation Connecting Every Business’s Digital Platform - API and Microservices Architecture, Eric Wong, Assistant General Manager at CargoSmart and Prithpal Bhogill, Product Manager at Google highlighted the key steps that they took to achieve this.

Together, they built a digital platform that used APIs to develop a digital value chain with their customers and partners. Internally, the platform ensured that their most valuable digital assets remain protected.

The combined efforts led to the development of key products, including Route Master, Big Schedules, and services provided by the Global Vessel Voyage Monitoring Center (GVVMC). Each of the solutions use APIs and microservices to improve their value proposition and enhance visibility. For example, the GVVMC uses AIS, weather and map APIs to allow CargoSmart to do real-time vessel tracking, predict vessel schedules more accurately, and highlight typhoon impacted vessels.

Creating a future through collaboration

The conference, which saw over 500 professionals attending, showcased the benefits of the above methodologies and techniques, and encouraged the delegates to collaboratively transform.

In addition to featuring industry experts who shared their insights on new software development techniques, platform-as-a-service and cloud, CargoSmart held breakout sessions on technical and experience sharing to show how innovation will shape the future of the shipping industry.  

This article was created in collaboration with the sponsoring company and our sales and marketing team. The editorial team does not contribute.