Amit Basu – International Seaways
The petroleum shipping industry can be cyclical in nature, ebbing and flowing with global oil’s supply and demand. Adding to that challenge are the shifting tides of the world economy—and those tides are certainly moving—with unpredictable weather conditions, geopolitical events, acts of God and regulatory changes.
To survive this volatility—even thrive—a shipping company needs a business strategy for managing uncertainties and mitigating risks.
And for that, technology needs to be a growing part of the equation, says Amit Basu, the CIO and chief information security officer for International Seaways (INSW), as well as an industry veteran with more than 25 years of experience.
“Better planning, better decision-making and better knowledge of shipping finances are the key ingredients for success,” he says, as he guides efforts to maximize IT efficiency and optimize costs with cloud-based and other digital technologies.
The early days
When Basu began his IT career in shipping with INSW’s predecessor Overseas Shipholding Group (OSG) in 1998, he was managing 40 ships from two offices. Over the next 10 years, he witnessed the company grow to 135 ships and 10 global offices.
In those early days at OSG, Basu was instrumental in the first computerization of OSG’s tankers, a groundbreaking project involving a “standard image”-based computer network for the entire OSG fleet.
“Standardization and imaging resulted in substantial cost savings in future maintenance and support of the ship’s IT networks—even after increasing the number of ships,” Basu explains.
At that time, satellite-based communications from ship-to-shore was unreliable and costly, so Basu also implemented a small database-driven application on the ships allowing communication and exchange of information with onshore hubs via email-based data replication.
“This intelligent use of technology made the company’s shipping operations lot more efficient,” he says. “It allowed data to be captured at the source rather than multiple data entry resulting in extra effort and errors.”
Basu and his IT team at OSG also implemented ERP systems and built enterprise business intelligence dashboards using a data warehouse.
In the clouds
When OSG spun off their International Business Unit in 2016 as a separate publicly owned company, a few employees transitioned with it, including Basu.
Today, International Seaways is one of the largest tanker companies in the world but continues to focus on being flexible with a lean organizational structure. “As INSW’s CIO, I ensure that IT is always kept in step with the business,” Basu says.
To bolster the business strategy of achieving efficiency while being flexible, Basu has embraced consumption and cloud-based IT services, which can be scaled up or down as needed. The benefits are many, Basu says, namely efficiency, flexibility and the ability to change with the business.
“Wherever available, software as a service (SaaS) is the preferred choice for INSW,” Basu says “A virtual office on secured cloud serves as the disaster recovery and business continuity solution.”
Diving into digital
Basu realizes that, like other industries, digital transformation is expected to be essential for shipping companies now and in the future. Shipping industry leaders are convinced that automation and digitalization in shipping will continue its rapid-paced growth over the next few years, he says.
“This not only entails technological changes—the entire value chain of shipping will get reorganized,” he says. “Ship-to-shore broadband connectivity—together with augmented reality—will make remote troubleshooting of shipboard equipment a near-term possibility.”
Basu adds that with the help of artificial intelligence and machine learning, autonomous ships may not be science fiction for long. In addition, blockchain may redefine shipping supply chain processes as well, taking all of these digital developments in smart shipping from concept to reality.
Basu wants to ensure that INSW gets the maximum benefit from this smart era of shipping. For that, he relies on his small team of maritime IT experts and a few trusted IT partners.
“We continuously conduct technology scans that track trends, technologies and innovations that could be leveraged in the future,” he says. “Risks are inherent in innovation but the biggest risk of all is to not innovate. All organizations must balance the risk of adopting new technology against that of ignoring or waiting for things to settle. We were aware that cloud solutions had some risk, but they also had immense promise from which we benefited.”
Cybersecurity on the high seas
While the smart era of shipping creates conveniences, it’s also escalating the cybersecurity risks in the entire industry.
As Basu explains, several shipping industry stakeholders have already issued guidance and best practices in order to be prepared for potential cyberrisks. To aid in recovery, shipping organizations need to develop what he calls “cyber resiliency” to prevent any major disruption in business operations.
At INSW, that means implementing a multi-layered security approach following the defense-in-depth model of the U.S. military—an approach that encompasses people, processes and technology. Properly trained employees become the first line of defense in a cyberattack, while a cyberrisk strategy outlines how to prevent potential attacks and how to respond quickly in the event of an incident.
“This expanded scope also helps to eliminate the gap between IT and the business, requiring the two sides to proactively align and present a united front against threat and incursion,” he says.
Basu and his IT team are ready to play an important role in driving INSW’s digital transformation, he says, but their bigger challenge will be protecting the company from emerging cyberthreats.
“The entire industry must cooperate and build an ecosystem that is resilient to cyberthreats. Effort from one company at a time may not be sufficient in the smart-era of shipping,” he says.
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