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Samskip CIO Ragnar Ragnarsson on Blockchain and Partnerships

Ragnar Ragnarsson
CIO, Samskip Group

You have worked at Samskip Group for 20 years. What has been the progression and evolution of the company over the years? How has this matched the evolution of business technology and the IT department?
Since I started working for Samskip, the company has evolved from a local Icelandic shipping company with 25 million Euro revenue to a global logistics provider with close to 800 million Euros in revenue. It has been a great journey and as you can imagine, IT plays a huge role in the day-to-day operations of such a company, internally for day-to-day operations and externally for various information flows with customers, suppliers, and the authorities. When I started at Samskip, fax machines and telegraphs were still the main communications methods!

What has been the main challenge when adapting to new technology so far?
The logistics industry is highly dependent on exchanging information but standardization for sharing that information is a very low-level priority. Dealing with our large European clients is always a challenge were we, as a service provider, need to adapt to their wishes and requirements. I do see a light at the end of the tunnel now with technology like Blockchain, a promising concept but it will still be some time until it is the Holy Grail of information sharing in the industry.

What is the main achievement you are most proud of?
I could say some of the large integration projects we have successfully done over the years, but what I‘m probably still most proud of was when we opened the first Samskip office in Rotterdam back in 1995. We brought some people from the agency who had been working with Samskip over the years, and in three week’s time, we were up and running with a new office, IT systems, and a direct link to the head office in Reykjavik.

What are the key success factors for managing a company with two cultures and locations? How do you navigate the differences between Icelandic and Dutch cultures?
Being a multinational company can often be a challenge when it comes to different cultures. We are active in 26 countries and we do not try to instate a certain Samskip culture but rather allow the people to develop local cultures in the workplace. We do, however, educate people on common Samskip values and promote can-do attitude across the line.

How do you deal with innovation within the Samskip Group? How do you stay ahead of the competition?
Innovation is happening in various units of Samskip; it‘s not organized in a central location. We have focused efforts on innovation when it comes to improving our containers and equipment. We listen to our customers and we strive to develop stronger and lighter containers so more payload can be put in them. We are also considering developing our multimodal network as a sort of innovation, opening new rail or vessel routes to offer our customers alternatives to long distance transportation over roads.

How are you working with start-ups or with professors to bring new knowledge or technology into the company? Which project with a professor or a start-up do you like?
To be honest, we are not working with any start-ups that I know of. Samskip is very open to working with external parties on new innovative projects though. In IT we are constantly working with our suppliers to develop new technology solutions which are deployed in our operations in many cases. Currently, we are participating in a project with Port of Rotterdam, Port of Tilbury, and customs authorities to develop fully digital information sharing using Blockchain technology. This is led by BlockLab, which is a start-up funded by Port of Rotterdam.

What is currently the main challenge for the logistics industry? Digitalization of the process, standardization, or integration with RFID, AI or blockchain? What is your vision for the future from your perspective at Samskip Group?
There are so many things happening that challenge the logistics industry. I want to mention two: the constant rise of E-Commerce, which is a fundamental shift in how consumers behave and shop and causes a structural change in the underlying supply chains, especially regarding last mile delivery and the need for smaller, more flexible warehouses closer to consumers. The other is 3D printing, which I think will have a huge impact on logistics in the not-so-far future. More transparency in the transportation process is highly important, and I believe blockchain and smart contracts might be the technology that will enable such innovations to a higher degree in the future.

What do you do in your spare time?
I am an enthusiastic golfer and have been since I was a young boy. I play with my family and friends and also occasionally for business. I never get bored with playing in tournaments. I also like to go skiing and travel with the family, and I go hunting and fly-fishing several times during the year with my friends.

What do your mornings look like?
During the week, my mornings are pretty similar: getting up with the family, showering, eating breakfast, and driving to work. On the weekends I like to get up early and spend some time alone with few cups of coffee, catching up on the news or reading a good book.

Books recommended by Ragnar Ragnarsson:

You can read Ragnar Ragnarsson’s Golden Rules for Living, here.