Maintaining business operations in times of crisis

The firm grip of the coronavirus pandemic on the global economy has been disruptive in the maritime sector, too. Continuing business in a safe and flexible manner and keeping close contact with customers are key to ensuring the viability of the whole industry. DNV GL has succeeded in China, thanks to its digital services.

Featuring in this interview

Norbert Kray, Regional Manager Greater China, DNV GL – Maritime and Senior Vice President, DNV GL

Norbert Kray has assumed the position of Regional Manager for DNV GL Maritime in Greater China since January 2018. Based in Shanghai, he is responsible for overseeing, strengthening and growing DNV GL’s maritime business in Greater China, one of the strategically most important regions for the DNV GL Group.
He also serves as Country Chair and Business Continuity Manager during the COVID-19 crisis for all business areas in China. Before coming to China, Mr. Kray was DNV GL Area Manager in Japan since 2014. He is a trained Naval Architect. After his studies he started his career at the Bremer Vulkan Shipyard and then moved to Germanischer Lloyd (today DNV GL) in 1997 where he became a surveyor.

Norbert Kray has assumed the position of Regional Manager for DNV GL Maritime in Greater China since January 2018. Based in Shanghai, he is responsible for overseeing, strengthening and growing DNV GL’s maritime business in Greater China, one of the strategically most important regions for the DNV GL Group.
He also serves as Country Chair and Business Continuity Manager during the COVID-19 crisis for all business areas in China. Before coming to China, Mr. Kray was DNV GL Area Manager in Japan since 2014. He is a trained Naval Architect. After his studies he started his career at the Bremer Vulkan Shipyard and then moved to Germanischer Lloyd (today DNV GL) in 1997 where he became a surveyor.

How has the Chinese shipbuilding industry coped with the COVID-19 crisis, and when do you expect operations to be back to normal?

The Chinese shipbuilding industry took the outbreak of COVID-19 very seriously. As far as I could observe, it followed a two-pronged strategy: prevent the spread of COVID-19; and make sure operations can resume as soon as possible. Since mid-March our customers, such as yards and manufacturers, have been operating at or close to 100% of normal activity. DNV GL – Maritime China is likewise back to almost full-scale production. No surveys are being declined, and we may see a wave of high workloads from April onwards.

What was DNV GL’s response to COVID-19 in China, and how did you manage to continue business operations?

The health and well-being of our employees are our company’s top priorities. Following the guidance of the authorities we introduced a series of measures to protect our staff, including precautionary measures, remote work etc.

We stand together with our customers at this critical time. To maintain our customer focus and continue providing customer support, we introduced a business continuity plan that included increased reliance on digital tools.

Communication, both external and internal, is of utmost importance in a crisis situation. The key app in China is WeChat. We make extensive use of it. The same goes for Microsoft Teams, which has been very helpful.

Within the personal interaction limits imposed by local authorities, our surveyors have been doing their best to support yards, owners and manufacturers with on-site surveys. We are proud that we were able to help our customer Qingdao Beihai Shipyard deliver Ore Yantai, the first of a series of 325k Valemax III vessels, to ICBC Financial Leasing and China Merchants Energy Transportation Company on 12 February, the third work day after the end of the extended Chinese Spring Festival Holiday. Ore Yantai was the first ship delivery after the outbreak of COVID-19.

Maintaining a positive mindset among our staff was one of our priorities from the very beginning of the outbreak. We tried to promote a sense of confidence, and as Country Chair I sent out several video messages to encourage and motivate everybody.

Maintaining customer relations by mostly virtual means must be challenging. How did this work out in practice?

It worked out quite well actually, and we can say the trust of our customers in us did not diminish. In fact, DNV GL secured 16 contracts for newbuilds in the Chinese market during this time. As a result, we are one of the top class societies here, with a year-to-date newbuilding market share of currently 31% measured in GT.

DNV GL has introduced a wide range of digital services in recent years. How have they helped you and your clients keep the wheels turning?

Our digitalization initiatives are really paying off now. It is vital that our customers can continue to operate without disruption of class services; at the same time it is essential not to compromise the safety of crews and surveyors. Especially remote surveys have provided the flexibility customers need, with global round-the-clock coverage, and improved efficiency through reduced travel times and increased availability.

Then there is our wide range of digital services, such as DATE, which provides 24/7 direct access to technical experts with short response times. In the present lockdown conditions around the globe, DATE really plays out its strengths. DNV GL’s open data platform Veracity is another great example of how we connect with customers in the digital age. This portal lets customers share data to enhance ship performance and safety, use our Smart Survey Booking service, access electronic certificates, or use our digital apps for fleet management and other purposes. It also provides direct access to many other DNV GL services, rules, regulations and documents, all on demand without requiring physical presence.

Will the maritime industry and the way we do business change forever as a consequence of this pandemic?

There is no doubt that many lessons are being learnt during the COVID-19 crisis. Once we have successfully fought the virus, I am sure we will always think twice before arranging a face-to-face meeting involving a long journey. We are discovering that a videoconference or Teams meeting is often just as effective. Quite apart from the pandemic, at DNV GL we will continue to pursue our digital strategy and improve our services, having seen how powerful they are especially in a crisis.

How has this crisis impacted the role of classification – in general and in China in particular?

The crisis has once again demonstrated the crucial role of class in the maritime industry today. I believe the challenges would have been much worse if we hadn’t had our digital tools up and running. But most importantly, our business is still a “people” business: it is personal relationships, whether through digital communication or otherwise, that make the difference. Our customers know whom to contact. In times of crisis it is important to be agile and to take quick decisions. I am proud that this worked out very well, both here in China and globally.

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