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Dear Friends and Colleagues, We wish you a happy, successful and peaceful 2018. If we were to look back and summarise 2017, which seems to have just whizzed by, it has been a subdued and a flat period. Commodity prices have been range- bound, and ship costs and shipping rates have been range-bound bordering on more negative than positive. Cargo volumes have been flat.

Let us begin 2018 on a brighter note, as 2018 is the 102nd year of J. M. Baxi & Co. Cargo volumes at Indian ports have shown healthy growth during 2017 of almost 6%, and in 2018, that growth is expected to continue, if not accelerate. With the type of strict overview that is now becoming the norm (better late than never), well-managed companies such as ours and several others will see a more sensible environment, and they will strengthen the maritime infrastructure and logistics landscape of India.

In this inaugural issue for 2018 of “From the Quarter Deck”, we would like to change a bit from looking at the past and the present to looking to the future. Let’s crystal gaze a bit! We are increasingly observing and participating in incredible developments. Today, our cars are actually computers on wheels. Today, our phones are not only phones but also devices for accessing information and for hobbies and entertainment, which is both proactive and reactive, and in many cases predictive. Today, shopping is much more online than through bricks-and-mortar stores and purchase choices are increasingly being assisted by artificial intelligence. Medical and legal consultations occur via sophisticated programs and giant databases. Data-mining and the analysis of these databases happen with precision and speed. Production systems are increasingly becoming robotised and the robots are getting artificial intelligence. Warehousing is increasingly becoming smart and intelligent. Even more amazingly, smart cities are actually happening. Along with these dynamic developments, the major challenges facing humankind are going to be pollution control, freshwater scarcity, food conservation and food security. What does all this mean for our company, our industry and our country? Let me talk about three specific areas.

Autonomous electric vehicles

We will increasingly see electric vehicles that are autonomous and driverless. Such vehicles will service our terminals, whether they are inland or port-based, and they will make journeys of 50 to 100 km between the hinterland and factory premises. Journey times will be utilised to complete the entire gamut of documentation while embedded scanning equipment carries out the physical verification. The gate-in formalities will be electronic and bills of lading for delivery orders will be transmitted instantly. And wait, it is also expected that ships will increasingly become autonomous, as has been reported in the press on behalf of Rolls-Royce and Wärtsilä.

E-governance and e-management

Logistics and transportation are best defined as several tasks and functions happening together to produce a singular result, i.e. the delivery! Bringing all those tasks together on a single digital platform will be the key to success in any economy in the world. Embedding such a platform with the necessary intelligence, computing power and speed is a challenge as well as an opportunity. Using a single touchscreen on a smartphone or maybe even voice- assisted instructions, a shipper or consignee will be able to arrange an entire shipment with the shipping company, the customs house agent, the port, the railways, the road transporter, the banker, the custom authorities etc.

River and coastal transportation

The total length of our nation’s coastline and rivers is almost 15,000 km. This creates a new transport corridor of almost 15,000 km. Transport by water cuts costs and pollution. This form of transport also provides new connectivity for various under-connected areas, especially India's landlocked states. Needless to mention, this applies to both cargo as well as passengers. With the development of coastal and river corridors, the opportunity for our industry will mean almost a complete replication of what we are seeing today, both in terms of infrastructure as well as opportunities.

All of you would undoubtedly join me in feeling gratified that our company is already involved in all three of these areas of future development. Increasingly, we are encouraging our terminals and transport divisions to do whatever is necessary to become autonomous and intelligent. Our digital platform PORTALL is being rapidly developed and with the enhanced data in our systems, it is also acquiring the necessary artificial intelligence. For coastal and river transportation, various of our joint teams are putting together blueprints, which may well be our map into the future. It is actually an exciting time, and especially so for 2018.

Wishing each and every one of you and your families a great 2018 ahead!

Krishna B. Kotak  
Chairman - J M BAXI GROUP