Technological challenges are great opportunities too: ECU Line CEO


Claudio Scandella was hand picked by Allcargo Logistics Chairman Shashi Kiran Shetty to run cash-cow ECU Line as its Chief Executive Officer in November last. During a recent trip to India, the logistics industry veteran spoke on various aspects of ECU Worldwide, one of the global leaders in non-vessel operating common carrier (NVOCC) business and the biggest less-than-container load (LCL) consolidator in the world. Excerpts:

You have come on board ECU Line at a critical time...

ECU is in a very good position globally. The company is very successful, but then it’s not getting easier for anybody; there are lot of things happening. There is a lot of opportunity out there in the market, yet there are also risks because digital developments will definitely change the way how we operate and how we market and sell our services.

What are the challenges and opportunities for ECU Line?

The technological changes, the transformation which is now required from all of us, are a great opportunity if you tackle it the right way. If you don’t, you’ll get under pressure. So, it becomes a risk, a liability. The margin pressure in our business is to optimise the transactional costs on an on-going level, and that becomes much more difficult if you don’t have the right answers on the technological side. There you definitely need to be aware of what’s going on, what the possibilities on new ways of managing the business are, let’s say automation and at a later stage probably artificial intelligence. It is not only about costs, it is also about quality. If you can assure quality in your internal process you can take out the cost of non-quality. Technologies that are available today at reasonable price, provide those opportunities to challenge the way you operate today.

How are you dealing with technological advancements?

We are focussing on internal optimisation. We are in the final stages of developing a customer portal, called ECU 360, which integrates a lot of the different services we can provide online. For example, customers will be able to get a quote from us end to end/origin to destination, they can convert that quote immediately into an online booking, they can then follow-up the shipment with our tracking and tracing tech, they can also download the sailing schedules, they can see the sailing schedules which we have on a global level, they can also get their invoices if they like online from us. So, that is a platform/a customer front-end which enables the customer do a lot of business transactions via the Internet rather than in a traditional way — picking up the phone or sending us an e-mail. That is now in the final stages of preparation and we will roll it out shortly.

How much of your bookings are online now?

It depends. In some countries it’s a rather big amount. For example, in Germany, a large amount of the bookings are coming online already. I have a number which is in the high of 70-80 per cent. In other countries it’s mainly still phone call or an e-mail. For us, it’s quite important to drive traffic towards online by making it easier for the customers. We prefer if it comes via the online platform because it helps us get the right information and complete information from the customer and also helps us facilitate our internal processes. But, we will, for the foreseeable future, still have to do both. Because, we don’t see customers changing so fast in some countries. In many instances, people like the personal interaction, they like to pick up the phone and we need to cater to that because for us customer service is very important. We are not pushing online booking on the customer, but of course the future will be more online than manual.

How critical is your relationship with co-carriers/partners?

We are still to a very large extent in the consolidation business. For us, it really makes a difference that a container is shipped because it is not one customer like in the full container load (FCL) business, it’s 20 customers. If a container is not shipped, 20 customers are affected. We rely much more on our partners to assure that our boxes are shipped and then it’s also about timing: gate-in and gate-out. We want to be the last one to go in and the first one to go out. Service-wise, we are looking for additional benefits to our customers. We need a good understanding with our partners. It’s the same with the customers. Service is so important because we are talking so much about pricing and that is critical for everybody. But, imagine all the costs of a bad service. ECU doesn’t want to be a low-cost, no-frills provider. We want to be right up there with the best in what we do. We need to work with our customers to understand how they perceive us.

What are the new markets you are looking at?

We are constantly looking at new markets and eastern Europe is one of them. We think that we can be more prominently represented in some markets in eastern Europe.

Are there any acquisition plans?

We are always looking out for opportunities to grow inorganically as well. My major goal is to get the organisation into a systematic approach to grow organically. We have the opportunity also to grow inorganically and that will remain a goal for us. We have that defined in our strategy.