A presentation during maritime digitalisation webinar highlights the challenges and benefits of producing industry-wide open data exchange standards
Creating standards and getting industry-wide adoption for digitalisation is difficult, but its future value can be immense.
Thetius founder Nick Chubb said producing a universal standard for exchanging data will be challenging, but worthwhile in the long run.
“Creating standards can actually be really difficult,” he said during Riviera Maritime Media’s ‘Digitalisation and data standardisation: time for the maritime industry to act’ webinar on 12 May. “But history teaches us time and time again that if you can do that, the payback comes back tenfold.”
Thetius is a source of research and intelligence on emerging technologies within maritime.
Mr Chubb told participants that sharing a concept and making patents open source were proven ways to create a market and monetise standards.
“Data is not that valuable until you start sharing it out there with the wider world,” he said.
But there is still a lot of pushback from stakeholders in the maritime industry for sharing data and producing a universal digitalisation standard.
Shipowners, managers, shipyards, classification societies, naval architects and equipment manufacturers have their own data and are reluctant to share it openly or to collaborate on standards.
“There is often a lot of reticence about giving away something or coming up with the standard and just letting it go out there for free,” said Mr Chubb.
But those that have done so have created new market opportunities and huge revenues.
Mr Chubb offered an example of this success from almost 65 years ago. This was when Malcolm McLean invented the container ship. In April 1956, his converted tanker SS Ideal-X set sail from Port Newark in New Jersey to Houston, Texas, with 58 containers. Before these, hand-loading a ship cost US$5.86 a tonne, but using containers it cost only US$0.16 a tonne to load a ship, “so, it is about a 30-fold efficiency” said Mr Chubb.
This led to other companies pushing different sized containers. McLean’s company pioneered using 35-foot long container, which could be loaded onto trucks. One rival was pushing for a smaller 24-foot model. “The uncertainty of this hampered uptake of container shipping,” said Mr Chubb.
“No one really wanted to invest in the ships, trucks or in the containers themselves without knowing,” he explained.
“What Mr McLean did is, he had previously registered a patent on his container, and he decided to give it away.”
Mr McLean listed this patent under an open-source licence to the international standards organisation ISO.
“Within 15 years his company Sea-Land was the largest shipping business in the world and by 1982 Mr McLean was personally worth about US$400M,” said Mr Chubb.
There are lessons to be learnt from this example and others, such as development of standards for electric plugs and cargo weight measurements.
One key lesson “on how to both create and then make standards widely adopted” said Mr Chubb, was to ensure there are financial and operational gains from its introduction.
“If it does not create a massive efficiency gain, it is probably not going to be adopted,” he said. “If there are no massive gains there, you want to take another look at it.”
A second lesson is to open-source the standard and data. “Standards need to be made freely available to everyone,” said Mr Chubb. “You should allow anyone to contribute to them.”
He thinks barriers to sharing data and standards, such as broadband costs and cyber vulnerability issues, can be overcome for the benefit of the maritime industry.
“If you can do those three things, then you will be in a much better position to create standards that are going to be widely adopted and benefit the entire industry,” said Mr Chubb.
He was joined on the panel during the webinar by Digital Container Shipping Association chief operating officer Henning Schleyerbach and P&O Maritime Logistics chief executive officer Martin Helweg.
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