As the backbone of our supply chain, maritime allows for the cost-effective movement of any goods from one country to another. The scale of the sector is enormous, facilitating 95% of the UK’s trade at a value of £46.1bn to the UK’s GVA in 2017 and the global sector is set to be worth a staggering $3 trillion by 2030. 

As a result of the pandemic, almost overnight, organisations in the traditional sector have had to implement new digital ways of working to maintain the flow of international trade. In the post-Covid-19 economy, the maritime sector will play an even bigger role; with many new technologies being explored that will allow the industry to drive real change. 

One of the criticisms laid at the feet of the maritime industry is that it can be slow to adapt to changes in the market. However, being a late adopter could also be seen as an advantage, as much of the technology required to transition successfully is already available at a suitable cost. Peter Ruffley, CEO, Zizo and Kevin Martin, Head of Client Services at 3DEO, discuss how the global pandemic has provided a catalyst for change, and a real opportunity for maritime to try new ideas, approaches and technologies.

Capitalising on innovation

Both offshore and onshore, shipping companies will have to digitise their operations as much as possible in order to operate more profitably and efficiently, and be able to unlock the vast potential of their data. 

In order to attract new talent with fresh ideas, existing players must accept that traditional processes may change significantly, and be willing to consider alternative approaches. The future success of the industry will be defined through a collaborative effort between industry and digital experience.

Shipping has always made some use of data to provide specific solutions, such as weather data for forecasting and vessel identification. But AI and machine learning are driving new data application opportunities, alongside a joined-up, global view of data, which other industries such as automotive and aerospace have put at the forefront of their operations for years – predictive maintenance is a good example. Those who learn to harness this data and make all of their data work for them, will grow faster, become more productive and lead in this new era.

One significant challenge to the maritime industry that can cause delays to the supply chain and financial penalties is that a large proportion of vessels are late when delivering cargo. Though this is often for a number of reasons, the answer isn’t pointing the finger, it’s looking at the data available and using this information to find out why this problem is consistently occurring and mitigating it from happening. By using available data, organisations can predict the risks associated with each shipping route, analysing elements such as weather data and historical captain performance, to determine the likelihood of the vessel being late, which in turn, will bring great economic benefit.  

Sharing and evolving

Another hurdle to overcome within the maritime sector is a lack of communication and knowledge sharing around innovation within the industry. Rather than open discussion amongst the industry as a whole, there remains mistrust between companies that they might use information to their advantage. 

This issue is largely down to inexperience with data governance. In order to advance the data conversation in the industry, organisations must evolve their organisational structure to include technology-focused roles, such as the Chief Information Officer.  An experienced CIO can introduce the governance and control structures around data that will give organisations the confidence to participate in data sharing activities.

Growing data pool

The improvement in location data records provided by the widespread deployment of satellites and improved ship broadband connectivity have already begun improving vessel operational performance, as well as quality of life for thousands of seafarers. Round the clock connectivity facilitates oversight of even the most remotely operating vessels, allowing crews and companies to understand and react to changing local and global events as they occur. 

Automation is also coming to the wider maritime sector. One huge opportunity is to automate dangerous or repetitive tasks onboard ships. This creates many benefits for the industry, a priority being the reduction of human error that often plays a key role in the cause of accidents at sea. Additionally, an improvement in efficiency can deliver huge monetary benefits due to the scale of the port operations.

Conclusion

Providing the maritime industry updates its thinking alongside IT capabilities, the two hand in hand will help the sector to thrive in the short term and into the future. There are huge savings to be made, efficiencies to be gained and advancements generated, once the industry totally embraces these innovations and digitises their process with a solid data-based foundation. By breaking these barriers and offering greater collaboration, we will see a rapid movement in maritime towards digital innovation.

Peter Ruffley, CEO, Zizo
Kevin Martin, Head of Client Services, 3DEO