Bandwidth, onboard connectivity, legacy IT systems, marine-specific smart devices and cyber security are among the hurdles shipowners face in developing a broader digital strategy for remote collaboration and engagement.
These were the views expressed by four panellists at the Connectivity for remote management and support webinar, part of Riviera Maritime Media’s Vessel Optimisation Webinar Week. The webinar was produced with support from Scale Computing on 7 December.
Anglo-Eastern Ship management chief information officer Torbjorn Dimblad said Anglo-Eastern has had to quickly adapt its ship management practices in the face of the global pandemic. Under normal circumstances, Anglo-Eastern would visit each ship under its management three times per year. “Across our global fleet that amounts to about 2,000 visits per year. With a pandemic raging and restrictions on travel, that number has been reduced to just several hundred,” he said.
As a result, Anglo-Eastern has used many of the digital and video conferencing technologies that others have used during the pandemic to replace face-to-face interactions. “With the expectation that we will not return to normal operations across the fleet until 2022, the opportunity now is to incorporate and embed these into a broader digital strategy for remote collaboration, and engagement,” said Mr Dimblad.
Mr Dimblad cited five major challenges shipping must overcome to properly implement its broader digital strategy: bandwidth, signal consistency on board, modernisation of legacy IT systems, cyber security and cost, and durability and availability of ATEX Zone 1-certified smart devices. All five challenges would need to be underpinned by capex.
He said while VSAT supports the bandwidth required for modern collaboration platforms, it remains very expensive, meaning “owners will still pay significant costs to get the bandwidth and data bundles that allow for real-time communication.”
Additionally, a “consistent signal” on board the vessel – such as in the engineroom – is another challenge, as is the legacy IT equipment on board some vessels, often represented by a “hodgepodge collection of brands and operating systems” reminiscent of “a trip back in time.”
Mr Dimblad said, “While this is changing, the effort to modernise should not be underestimated.”
Equally pressing for owners are issues around cyber security and the continuing threat from cyber criminals. “Securing the networks and the nodes that connect to them is an incredibly important challenge that we must all rise and collectively meet,” he said.
These challenges have become goals for Anglo-Eastern, which has implemented several digital and IT initiatives in 2020. Among these are deploying intrinsically safe smartphones across its tanker fleet to support remote inspections, installing 4G equipment to complement its VSAT service and deploying a standard operating environment for the business network on board.
In 2021, the ship manager will evaluate an industrialised network and reality-assisted eyewear for the crew that has been employed in the oil and gas industry.
Much of the success of shipping’s digital transformation, concluded Mr Dimblad will depend on the human element.
“Embarking on any kind of digital transformation initiative is a challenge. While the project must balance cost, scope and time, the real hurdles come with adoption. The crew has traditionally been left behind, spending hours each day extracting information from various sources, and then often working on old hardware to fill out duplicate reports destined for multiple stakeholders,” he said. “In the face of increasing pressures to perform, the opportunity for deploying modern digital solutions that simplify the crew’s efforts and keep them well connected are certainly welcome.”
Scale Computing vice president EMEA Johan Pellicaan agreed with Mr Dimblad that cyber security was a chief concern to the maritime industry. He cited numbers showing that cyber attacks on shipping had increased over 900% over the last couple of years.
“Actually, cyber attacks in the maritime industry are increasing much faster than shore-based operations and this is very scary because it’s not just that systems go down, but the after effects of a cyber attack on board a ship can be really dramatic.”
Increasingly, more IoT solutions are being deployed on board ships, opening up new cyber security risk vulnerabilities, said Mr Pellicaan.
“These (devices) have way less protection than traditional solutions and from a backup and resilience point of view, it is not just a matter of how your backups and resiliency is organised, but that most systems are simply not resilient enough.”
Mr Pellicaan also highlighted how increasing emissions regulations are challenging IT systems and investments. He said those regulations “might require more analytics that might require more applications on board; is your infrastructure ready for that?”
Royal Caribbean Cruise Group newbuild cyber security senior manager Patrick Rossi shared some best practices on managing remote connections, among which were factory acceptance testing to validate equipment during newbuilding, to remotely updating software on board vessels.
“There are various dynamic properties, static properties, performance measures that we want to look at when we validate equipment, including software behaviours,” said Mr Rossi. He said different stakeholders are interested in viewing these properties, ranging from a classification society to the shipping line’s own experts that can confirm the performance of equipment, and Royal Caribbean’s own software specialists that are interested in viewing certain software properties during the testing.
Inmarsat head of maritime digital Marco Cristoforo Camporeale said as a result of Covid-19, shipping is “shifting into a higher level of remote management and remote support.”
Mr Camporeale said that while this shift brought with it major challenges, it also represented major opportunities. As an example, Mr Camporeale cited strides by class societies in using digital tools and systems such as helmets and smart devices that use augmented reality, live streaming, video and audio to conduct remote inspections and surveys.
“We see the class society starting to deploy expert teams for remote survey 24/7 to limit operational disturbance during the activity in port,” said Mr Camporeale. As a result, he said, ship managers that invest in new technology can gain both time and cost efficiency.