Common business practices require that any business entity base its strategies on the exact nature of the operational environment thus the evaluation of the operational environment is key to operations in any industry. Factual decision making is an aspect that has been integrated in principles that have to be mastered for any organisation to consider itself quality conscious (Monks & Minow 2008). The nature of most industries and markets is so dynamic and the variables that affect their behaviour are so many that basing decisions on the perceived environment is no longer professional and can be considered courting problems (Armstrong 2008). It is therefore on this basis that decisions made have to be based on a thorough analysis of the environment to develop strategies that will not only be relevant to the actual situation but will also be applicable to the challenges faced by organisations thus be relevant to their needs. Analysis of the environment and some factors that affect the environment forms a key part of strategic planning and should therefore be stresses on by all organisations keen on improving their conditions and being relevant to changing dynamics in their operational environment. It is on this basis that the paper seeks to examine the nature of the maritime industry so as to establish factors that are influential in its operations to established a framework that will ensure organisations reap the most out of their operations.
Critical Success Factors
The maritime industry has grown over the years and is currently one of the most developed industries in both developed and developing economies (Sakhuja 2007). The role played by the maritime industry in the import and export sectors is seen as one of the factors that has led to its growth. The increase in commercialisation and globalisation of business processes are factors that have collectively led to increase in the levels of activity in the maritime industry. Since commercialisation and globalisation have been firmly integrated into the social system and are expected to continue in breadth and scope, the maritime industry is expected to continue growing though the growth may be limited by factors within the industry and some that are without (Chesbrough, Vanhaverbeke & West 2006). Currently, the global financial environment is faced with crisis that resulted from a combinations of factors which include poor financial practices, increase in prices of crude oil and the collapse of global financial markets. The resultant is immense pressure at the industry level that has reduced a number of financial powerhouses to oblivion. Many industrial players are currently fighting for survival as high rates of inflation and decrease in business activities have led to increase in pressure on business entities to try and perform above par.
Logistics is definitive of operations that involve exchange of information resources and other operational inputs or outputs from the source to areas where they are required. Maritime logistics are therefore operations that involve exchange of process and other operational inputs from one area of operations to another in the maritime sector (Shim, Siegel & Dauber, 2008). Since operations are definitive of an organisations activities the following factors must be put into consideration as they are critical to operations in the maritime sector:
One of the most important factor that determine the nature of operations in any industry is the availability of financial capital. Money determines the nature of operations and the levels of diversity that an organisation can afford. The current operational environment is largely capitalistic and the levels of competition between different industry players is so high that industrial entities are forced to develop proper financial strategies and system for example mergers and acquisitions to ensure they stay afloat by acquiring additional resources. Thus, resources intensity is definitive of the current operational environment and since every resources can be quantified, the availability of financial resources and the ability to meet set standard by financial resource providers is a critical aspect to the development of any business entity. The financial crisis that the global economy is currently in has led to a credit crunch. Few financial institutions are willing to lend to business entities for fear of losing their cash when the entity sinks. The financial downtime is characterised by decrease in activity of capital markets which have over the years established themselves as the premier source of working capital for a number of marine industry players. An increase in the cost of fuel which is one of the most important input in the transport and marine sectors has led to increase in cost of operations. High rates of inflation have also contributed immensely to the current economic crisis by increasing the cost of operations. It is clear that the current operational environment has put considerable pressure on financial resources in the maritime sector as the environment is not only experiencing scarcity of financial resources but also has limited financial sources from whom businesses can acquire additional capital.
Every business entity that has been developed with the aim of making profits and reaping benefits out of its operational environment will always have its future as a key factor in determining the strategies that it will adopt. Good product development and market oriented strategies are adopted by organisations to ensure they develop their market base to ensure their development at present times and therefore the future of the organisation. It is therefore under this consideration that both short and long terms threats have to be amicably addressed and measures put in place to ensure that threats and opportunities are detected early and measures put in place to either deal with the threat or harness the opportunity. The current economic downtimes has already led to the failure of a number of financial powerhouses, some have managed to survive due to intervention from their respective governments. It is worth noting that though a capitalistic environment is characterised by reduced government intervention, governments often come to the rescue of business entities that are viewed to be too big to fall (Soros 2008). This goes in line with the development of a level playing ground as the failure of a major industry players often leaves a gap affects the nature of the industry in as negative manner especially its effect on the markets (Soros, 2008). Organisations are therefore left with little options but to deal with the current financial crisis and ensure they develop proper mechanisms that will ensure they are not caught on a wrong footing should there be a another financial crisis. Capitalist operational environments are characterised by high levels of uncertainty which develop slowly to crisis. The number of variables that affect the operational environment are so varied and in some cases outside the control of industry players and therefore the best approach to operations is to ensure that business entities are well prepared for any eventuality. If financial statistics are anything to go by, the levels of volatility in the current economic environment are high and financial recession is an aspect that must be accepted as being part of daily operations. The volatile nature of the US financial markets gives a clear indication of the nature of the operational environment which translates to economic conditions.
c) Customer Satisfaction
One notable challenge that businesses in a capitalistic operational environment are faced with is developing a market base. The levels of competition from other industry players is often high and customer requirements more demanding. Meeting the needs of the customers is important in ensuring relevance to operations and creating a reputations in the market which are aspects that are of great importance in a capitalistic environment. Relevance to customer needs and adoption of a quality conscious approach to delivery of services are some strategic approaches used to ensure customer satisfaction. Quality management practices are quite costly and have a large demand on organisational financial and skill resources. Research plays a central role in ensuring relevance to market needs and is therefore an integral part of any system put in place to ensure customer satisfaction. In the current financially constricted environment, meeting the needs of the customer may be constrained by lack of financial resources. Furthermore, decrease in transactional volumes expected to result from increase in cost of living and therefore decrease in level of luxury imports which forms a large volume of transactions in the maritime industry may lead to decrease in profitability and therefore organisational ability to be innovative and commit more to meeting the expectation of then market as opposed may be limited.
d) Strategic Relations
Just as the development of a reputation is of importance to operations, strategic relations play a great role in ensuring sustainability of business processes irrespective of the financial conditions. In times of financial crisis, some developed links may be severed by strategies developed by an organisations or others in the link. It is worth noting that maintaining the available market is of key concern in times of financial crisis and ensuring relevant strategic relations are not severed is central to ensuring sustainability of business operations. The current economic crisis is of a global dimension though the levels of influence it has on the financial and economic environment varies from one nation to the other. Though politicians have been quoted stating that the crisis is inconsequential, global supply chains clearly show that each and every county is either affected directly or indirectly. For instance, decrease in the volume of transnational cargo directly affect the amount of transaction at the national level. The capitalistic economy is characterised by globalisms which gives business processes a global perspective and therefore any factors that affect the variable either positively or negatively effectively influences the global operational environment (Donaldson & Williams 2005). Though some strategic links may be severed, it is upon maritime industry players to develop systems that will minimise loss of strategic relations and ensure the development of relations that will ensure their recovery from the affect of the global economic crisis.
Organisational ability to come out of a crisis is an indications of the the relevance of its strategies and robustness of its activities. The levels of customer and investor confidence on strategies adopted by any business is highly reliant on the business’s ability to pull out of crisis. The management of crisis and development of relevant strategies that will ensure the occurrence of crisis is predicated and mechanisms put in place to deal with threats and harness the opportunity that come with the crisis is of great importance in a volatile environment. Survival and growth are two factors that organisations have in mind in times of financial crisis.
Knowledge and experience are critical to recovery from financial crisis as they play a role that cannot be accomplished by other factors. Realizing the existence of crisis is important to ensuring recovery. The assumption that any business entity is not affected by the crisis is unrealistic and fails to take into account the global and dynamic nature of the operational environment. Management of crisis relay a lot on the success that organisations achieve in coming out of the bad financial times and may also influence the levels of success with which they harness opportunities presented in harsh operational environment. Most organisations fail in the management of crisis as they adopt strategies that can only be described as reflex reactions to unwelcoming financial times (Dooley 2006). The reaction approach is as a result of the pressure placed on the management to preserve the face of the organisation and pride. The effects of such poor approaches are cited as factors that lead to poor recovery and may impact negatively on the recovery time. One of the most common misconception is the sale of assets to get off creditors in time of crisis, this should be avoided unless the remaining will be manageable. Extortion is common in times of crisis thus organisations have to arm themselves with the required legal information and skills in seeking additional resources. Cost cutting approaches are quite common and are the most preferred approach to management of crisis. The approach to cost cutting determines the level of success that will be attained in the management of crisis. Organisation in cutting costs reduce their operational costs and therefore their production capacity. The nature of processes in any organisation is such that there are some processes that are critical and therefore influential on the performance levels. The complexity in cost cutting is reducing the costs as much of possible while minimising the effects of the reduced cost on performance levels. Cost cutting should be well structured and must involve professional analysis of organisational processes to determine areas that are critical and operations that are less critical. Minimal changes should be made on resource allocation to critical processes as major changes are made in less critical processes. This calls for thorough research into organisational operations to determine processes and their interaction. One of the most common mistake is determination of cost that will be cut before determining the nature of processes. The correct and effective approach to cost cutting is where analysis of processes determines the levels of cost that can be cut and therefore operations. This is a more objective approaches as compared to the previous where costs that will be cut are subjected on the processes.
Another common misconception is the assumption that crisis is static. In truth, the nature of a crisis is so dynamic and variables that are influential of its manifestation are quite complex. There is therefore needs for continuous monitor of the crisis as it unfolds. Each event has a bearing on the direction of the crisis and therefore relevance of the strategic direction taken in dealing with the crisis. Though crises affect the business environment they have minimal effect on existing communication and information systems and therefore the availability of information. Approaches that focus on reducing the number of research workers due to the wrong perception of their costliness should be avoided. If an organisation is to gain any advantage in the management of its financial resources, a research approach to the management of challenges caused by the economic crisis is advised.
The future of an organisation should always be considered in operations irrespective of the dynamics of the operational environment. Organisational strategic development should ensure that the future of an organisation is guaranteed by determining the long term effect of strategies and their relevance to operations. One of the most important factor that helps in showing where an organisation wants to be in is the vision. Each and every organisation must have a vision that depicts where the organisations wants to be at and the directions that will be employed in ensuring the vision is arrived at. It should be noted that the vision acts as a platform for strategic planning and development. If an organisation does not have a vision it is of important that it develops a framework representative of the organisation that will act as the theoretical basis for their strategies. Though the operational environment may demand a lot from organisations, the future as relayed in the vision or whatever strategic framework an organisation uses should be adhered to (Dooley 2006). Adherence not only helps in providing a frame of reference for strategic actions but also ensure that the organisation drives at its goals irrespective of the operational conditions without necessarily incurring additional costs.
Many organisations fail to incorporated their future into strategies in times of crisis. This can be blamed on a number of factors which include:
l A poor planning approach that does not include other stakeholders in the organisations.
l Event driven planning where event determine strategies that will adopted and therefore the strategies are subjective and lack in objectivity.
l Poorly developed strategic visions that do not put into account the nature of employees and operational environment. A vision that does not acknowledge the fact that there always will be hard times is irrelevant to the development of strategies aimed at surviving hard times.
l Though the importance of a strategic vision as a platform for the development of operational strategies is an aspect that has been discussed and accepted in business circles, some organisations have been slow in developing strategic visions while others have developed poor vision. In either case, strategies that have a basis on these strategic visions pose a number of problems in their implementation and even lead to failure in some cases.
Meet of customers’ expectations is important in ensuring continuance of business processes. It is the general objective for any business to meet or even surpass the expectations of their customers hence strategies will always try to come up with ways and means through which customers’ needs and expectations are addressed. It should be noted that for any business enterprise, the retention of customers and attracting others is a motto ingrained in their operations. The balanced scorecard approach considers customer satisfaction as one of the most important indicator to performance levels that a business entity is attaining. Customer satisfaction is a complex state attained by a combinations of a number of psychological and physical variables that interact to produce a state of satisfaction. In tough financial times, customers tend to be stingy and therefore the meet of their expectations is of great importance. Moreover, the current economic crisis that has greatly affected the maritime industry has also led to an increase in inflations and therefore the general economic environment is under strain. It is imperative on organisations to either gain high levels of delivery if they have been delivering under par or maintain their high levels of delivery that they have attained. There are a number of approaches that have over the year been used to ensure quality and meet the needs and expectations of customers. It is worth noting that for a company or organisations to meet the needs and expectations of customers, they must be aware of these needs and develop and implement strategies to ensure they are met. Therefore, customer satisfaction involves aspects of research, strategic planning and implementation of strategies which basically is a summary of operations in any organisation. The limitations on finance and the credit crunch currently being experienced limits the financial intensity that customer satisfaction strategies can exhibit. However, a number of less resource intensive improvements can be made to ensure increase in the levels of customer satisfaction:
l Personalised Services: Most organisations adopt a formal approach to business interaction where customers and business representatives rarely interact at a personal level. It is human for one to find it easy to relate an experience to someone he has seen than a virtual entity. Therefore, face to face approaches are more effective in developing customer confidence of the services and products offered by a given organisation. Quick response to queries and development of mechanisms that ensure customers are promptly informed on developments made in their queries is important in ensuring their psychological well-being which impacts on the perception they have of the business and its activities. Customers are not the easiest of people to deal with thus when dealing with customer there is need to ensure one keeps a clear head and maintains a friendly tone irrespective of the customers’ demand. The development of a well phrased customer service policy that ensures customers are served quickly and in the best way possible is also helps in the development of customer confidence. Though bureaucracy has its advantages in the management of customers needs and requests, the levels of bureaucracy should be reduced to prevent putting the customer under stressful conditions.
l Opportunities exists everywhere and one does not necessarily have to undertake a massive research to identify one. Attention to customers may help in identifying areas that they lack in and also identify avenues through which the customers’ perception of a business’s offerings can be improved. Promises are made to be kept and the sooner a business realises this rule the better its image in the market will be. If an organisations has a poor record of honouring promises then it is best if it never makes any. Customers are human and their needs can therefore be anticipated. Anticipation of customers’ needs is an art than should be mastered by any entrepreneur. It is important that businesses master the art of anticipating the needs of their market and go out of their way to help both their customer and non-customers. The cost that may be incurred from such is offset by gain in recognition and reputation of both the organisation and its services.
It is a social construct that humans are in a better position unified than as single entities. This is also applicable to business operations in some way as development of strategic relations is key to ensuring growth in certain segments and helps in the development of better strategic framework that can deal with stormy financial times. Well developed strategic relations are associated with increase in efficiency as business processes pass through channels that have been time tested an well reviewed. It is therefore upon organisations to ensure they develop mechanisms and strategic relations that will ensure they benefit in certain areas that they lacks in. Most strategic relations are developed to provide a balance of resources and cover areas in which an organisations is lacking in. The choice of a strategic partner is therefore critical in determining the levels of success and synergy developed as a result of cooperation (Merna & Al-Thani 2008). Strategic relations may be between businesses and in some cases be between a business and its customers. While some business are going down, a well assessed and analysed merger may be the way forward for an organisation and may even prove to be beneficial in ordinary financial times. In developing strategic relations during financial downtimes, the relevance of the relations to the survival of the business and in the long run are some of the factors that have to be considered.
Innovation is one of the most important attribute that any entrepreneur should display. Innovation is both an art and a science and should therefore be included in all areas of operation. To ensure innovation some aspects of creativity have to be integrated into the innovation process though the academic aspects of corporate management are of equal importance (Melewar 2008). In general, business operations are often complex and there are a number of strategic directions that a business entity can choose from. The development of strategies requires high levels of creativity since the options that an organisations can choose from are many and exhibit differential success levels. It is therefore upon organisations to develop mechanisms that will not only ensure high levels of innovation but also ensure that the products of the innovative processes are analysed and applied to daily operations. The levels of competitions that are currently being experienced in the maritime sector and the complications that are a result of the economic crisis are just some of the typical challenges that maritime industry players should expect of their operational environment. Expecting a smooth operational environment is self deceptions and should never be tolerated as it goes against the principle of realism in business operations. Organisations should therefore ensure they are aware of dangers and threats that exist in their operational environment and develop mechanisms that will ensure they are well placed to deal with challenges present in operations (Kao 2007). Innovation is highly dependent on organisational structure and the culture that has been adopted by the organisation with regards to the need for and application of innovative processes. Therefore, if any development is to be successful there is need to ensure that the organisation is well prepared for crisis and ensure proper management of the crisis.
Preparations for crisis is one of the most challenging things that an organisation goes through its lifetime. Any crisis can be predicted, but the mechanics it employs and its manifestation are aspects that take on a completely abstract approach. It should however be noted that being prepared is better than having no idea on what is happening in the operational environment. To ensure management of crisis and success in unwelcoming operational environment, organisation must ensure they develop good customer and industrial reputations during normalcy periods (Hazell & Fitzpatrick 2006). Most organisations put more effort in harnessing opportunities and averting threat present in their environment only when they are under threat of extinction. This is a poor approach as an organisation should always aim at its vision regardless of the trends in its operational environment.
The first step to ensuring a long term solution to financial uncertainty that characterise the present day business environment is the development of a strategic vision. The development of a strategic vision is an organisational issues that should include all stakeholders (Fletcher 2006). The vision which is brought out in the organisations’ vision statement should inspire hope, be representative of the organisation, show the organisation’s values and set high goals that appear achievable to all in the organisation. Creativity plays an important part in summarising the vision in a manner that preserves meaning and achieves the desired effect in a vision statement. It is upon this vision that all organisational goals are developed irrespective of the environment. The vision is important in providing a basis for the development of strategies by presenting a framework through which the environmental factors can be addressed by the organisations while maintaining the objectives of the organisation.
The development of a crisis management plan is also important. Accepting the fact that crisis are part and parcel of operations and acknowledging the difficulties associated with operations during such times is core to the development of an ‘all environment’ operational approach (Groves 2005). Multiple opportunities exists in times of crisis and preparation and high level of organisations differentiate losers from winners in time of crisis. The development of a crisis management plan should involve all in the organisation as crisis is managed by all members of the organisation. The development of a crisis management plan requires the implementations of policies and systems that will aid proper management of crises. It is worth noting that mastery of the operational environment is of great importance if the threats and opportunities associates with the crisis are to be dealt with precisely. The operational environment of any maritime sector player is complex and is filled with a number of variables. Multinational maritime companies and transnational have a more complex environment as compared to the local companies. It is therefore upon organisations to ensure they have in place relevant systems that will ensure that variables that affect operations are determined and continuously monitored (Fletcher 2006). Changes are determined and their effect on the processes determined. The operational environment though complex can be predicted and therefore the predictions of poor economic times is possible. It is therefore quite clear that research into organisational processes and nature of the operational environment is paramount in preparation of a crisis management plan. Research must be allocated considerable resources and incorporated into the organisational culture which may also include the development and implementation of proper communication strategies to ensure efficiency in carrying out the research process. Professionalism and continuous staff appraisal are aspects that must be included not only in the research department but must be extended to other areas of operations.
Though research is important in defining the nature of the operational environment and therefore predicting changes, identification of opportunities and threats requires not just properly developed analytical skills but also high levels of innovation. The development of strategies to ensure organisations reap the most out of opportunities while minimising the threats posed requires high levels of creativity. Innovation is important in ensuring efficiency in normal operations as it plays an important part in cost reduction and development of more effective approaches to operations.
To ensure high levels of innovation, it is upon organisations to adopt innovations by allowing for experimentation within a defined framework. Development of proper communication and interaction framework where members of the organisation are free to express and discuss their views is important in developing an experiment friendly environment (Griffin 2008). Appropriate resource must be availed: for instance, recent research results and research resources should be readily available for innovative teams, to tenure efficiency in innovation.
A major problem in innovation is loss of objectivity; though freedom is key to ensuring effectiveness in innovation, some limit and framework have to be developed to ensure objectivity (Drucker 2008). A team approach is an effective approach to management of innovation and ensuring relevance to organisational needs. Each teams is tasked with specific tasks and innovation within teams promoted by setting an operational environment that is conducive for innovation. Leadership within teams an at the organisational level is important in ensuring high level of coordination and proper management of conflicts (Drucker 2006). It is worth noting that if an organisation is serious about innovation, conflict are addressed in the right spirit as they are seen as an opportunity to develop problems solving skills rather than a manifestation of organisational discrepancies.
As long as the business environment is capitalistic; liberalisation, globalisation and technological development will continue being influential on the nature of the operations environment. Globalisation and liberalisations are associated with high levels of volatility which is made more complex by developed technology especially in the area of information. Thus, unless capitalisms is done with crisis will allays exists in the any industry. The role played by the maritime sectors in the economy especially the import and export subsectors is of importance. Increase in levels of globalisation is expected to lead to an increase in transnational trade and therefore increase in the volume handled by mariners. Therefore the marketability of the marine industry is not in questions development in trade directly translates to increase in transactions volume. There is therefore need for any industry players to ensure the it develops mechanisms that will ensure it survives the short term crisis and implements a plan that will ensure early detections of threats and opportunities associated with crisis and therefore ensure threat diversions and exploitation of opportunities.
Organisations should ensure they work hard in normal times so that thy can reap the benefits of their labour when the times get hard. It is therefore necessary for organisation to ensure they develop a good market bases and reputations by ensuring quality in their process. Acquirement of a sound financial base for working capital is also important in ensuring survival and growth in harsh financial times. Therefore organisations should ensure they adopt and integrate research and innovation into their operations. Research not only helps in making the right choice of a strategic partner but also helps in determining the threats and opportunities and therefore places an organisations in a better position in times of operations. Innovation on the others hand helps in devising methods that will ensure customers needs are expectations are met. Moreover, innovation is central in ensuring the adoption of operational models that are both cost effective and relevant to organisational goals and therefore its future.
A United nations report indicate that the levels of marine trade record an all time high in 2007 but have since dropped for because of the global economic crisis. According to the UN report the volume of freight was over 8 billion tones 2007. The Baltic index which is a key indicator of future economic environment and utilises measures on the demand and supply of shipped good indicated that there was a record decline in freight volume in May 2008. The official rates are slightly over 90% decline, its is worth noting that the effects of the crisis were more noticeable in May. The decline is a sure display of how the industry is volatile as the threat of recession is blamed for the drop in transactional volumes. The shipping industry is grew in 2007 by 7.22% and 2008 saw the productions of 10000 new ships, a record in the age old ship making industry. It is quite clear therefore that the marine industry is growing and the levels of competition are quite high.
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