Interview: Mahmood Bastaki, Dubai Trade CEO
The Dubai Trade Portal is one of those modern day amenities that once you’ve experienced, you wonder just how you’ve survived without, or, in this case, conducted business without it.
At the helm of this now super-successful e-system is CEO Mahmood Bastaki, a man who is extremely passionate about the Dubai Trade Portal. He recalls, to Logistics Middle East magazine, the days the service was first introduced back in 2003.
“Like any new services in the world, it was faced with resistance in the beginning,” he says. “E-government, e-services and e-initiatives, they’re all about changing habits. That’s why our slogan in Dubai Trade is, ‘Your new habit!’
“So we were going to the trading community trying to change their habits and saying things like ‘instead of hiring ten employees, you can hire just one or two’, and so it was probably resisted by the one who was physically doing the job. He might have been thinking: if I tell my company about the benefits of this e-service, I will lose my job. So he wasn’t giving the proper message to his firm.”
The Dubai Trade Portal was launched in 2003, but Bastaki reveals that the idea was initiated when Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum announced in 2000 to all government departments in Dubai that the emirate will be transforming into a digital city with e-government services. The idea was taken forward by HE Sultan bin Sulayem, then head of the Ports Customs Free Zone Corporation, who consolidated the trade and logistics services under one umbrella; so Dubai Trade, as a concept, was introduced in 2003.
With the launch came the challenges, and they were not just restricted to employees giving their companies bad feedback.
“The biggest challenge in any transformation of this kind is the resistance to change,” says Bastaki. “People don’t want to change, because they don’t want to get out of their comfort zone. But this was overcome by explaining the benefits of going online: such as the cost-cutting, the productivity, the efficiency and the time-saving that the customer is getting.
“The second major challenge was the awareness. So marketing was very important to reach out to the customers. One of the difficulties we had was the language barrier. We also sometimes have a community that’s maybe illiterate, like the truck drivers. But we wanted them to be online. Then we had illiterate customers versus low literacy in technology. A person could be literate, but still not know how to use the internet or a computer; that’s a difficulty for us.
“To add new communities was not easy, because sometimes you don’t have the full suite of e-services for the freight forwarders, for example. They can pay for import, but they cannot pay for export. So it took us a while to roll out all the e-services and put them online. So this was done in a gradual manner.
“Right now, overall, I would say there’s a very important measure that we use in our transformation. It’s called percentage of e-services adoptions, which simply means: ‘how many transactions are done over the counters versus how many transactions are done online. At the moment more than eighty-five per cent of transactions are done online.
“So we have overcame all these problems and challenges and we’ve reached the goals that we’ve put forward, and we are happy with what we have done so far.”
And happy they should be: today Dubai Trade’s registered company base stands at more than 55,000, with over 100,000 users. Compare that to the initial batch of about 100 companies that signed up in 2003. Bastaki reveals that they took the initiative of adding more services to correspond with the customer growth, including one for transportation companies.
“In 2008, we introduced a new community to the portal, this is for the hauliers, transportation companies, because prior to that there were no services for them,” he says.
“So we have added a new service called “e-token” for them. Before, to enter their trucks into the ports they used to go and get the tokens over the counter. So we have now solved the huge problem of the time wasted when a truck driver has to stop his truck, go to the documentation centre and wait in queues. You can imagine thousands of trucks stopping just to get an entry permit; there was congestion on the road. So now more than two million e-tokens are done online, from zero e-tokens in 2008 to two million!
“We went through this evolution of introducing more customers and more e-services to the community of trader logistics. This was a long journey, and we faced lots of difficulties. Because what you’re talking about is the diverse nature of trading community; you have shipping lines, freight forwarders, and clearing agents: all these are our communities.”
But Dubai Trade doesn’t plan to stop here. The aims for the future include a platform for customers to book their cargo on any ship or airplane provider through the Portal, and then taking the system throughout the UAE.
The shipping system is expected to be introduced later this year, with the air services to follow next year. “A customer will be able to log onto Dubai Trade and see all at once the vessels that are leaving Dubai for any destination,” says Bastaki. “Right now they have to go to each company one by one.
“If you are an exporter and you want to ship your cargo to Delhi or Karachi, you have to go to company A or a shipping line or freight forwarder individually, and then they give you dates, routes and costs.
“But we want to make Dubai Trade a single hub, with all the information under one umbrella, with real time updates from the sources. You will be able to book your cargo on that ship or plane – just like a passenger books their seat nowadays – all under one umbrella.
“And we want to have tighter integration with all the federal entities that are related to the cargo; however, our ultimate vision is to integrate with other trade facilitation entities. We want the same thing in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah.”
And lastly, Bastaki has some words of advice for those companies who are not already using the Dubai Trade Portal.
“Sooner or later counters will be closed. They are already closed for some services. You are getting penalised for going over the counter by paying more. If you go online you pay less. So the sooner companies move to online the better for them, for their productivity and for optimising their resources.
“We want them to learn, because for me, an enlightened customer is a better customer. I will receive fewer calls and fewer complaints, if I have educated, trained and skilled customers. So we give training. We even provide a course which is dedicated solely to bridging the gap between knowledge and trader logistics, because so many things are evolving in Dubai when it comes to ports and customs policies and procedures.
“So my advice to the firms is: get your people educated, because an ignorant employee equals bad productivity. Get the latest from us, so that you can do your business in the smoothest and easiest way possible.”