Shipping is often accused of being slow to react to change, but the sector is now racing headlong to embrace digitalisation in the hope of reaping the rewards big data offers
Performance, as they say, is everything. Increase performance and you reduce emissions, save costs, improve reliability and ultimately better please your customers. But with every component on a modern vessel honed to something like perfection, it is close to impossible to identify large performance gains from a single area. The real gains to be had now stem from a companywide commitment to optimisation which can only come from the smart use of high-quality big data.
Marlink vice president of maritime IT solutions Tor Skeie is well versed in this new approach to vessel and fleet performance and he is quick to emphasise the speed with which companies must adapt if they wish to be at the vanguard of the operational technology (OT) revolution. “Kids today do not use email,” he says. “Email is a legacy technology, the same as fax and telex.”
It is a view that might surprise some, but that is the point; shipping needs to look beyond the current technology that some still see as new and understand that new technology is already out of date before most of us have had chance to apply it.
“We need to rapidly move into the digital world,” he says, “and that means using online information, live and in real time, filtered appropriately and sent from the vessel to the company’s OT centre without interruption.”
Mr Skeie is clear in his opinion that this is the only way shipping will truly transform the current crop of industry buzzwords – digitalisation at sea, connected vessels, remote monitoring – into real-world gains.
“We need to rapidly work towards connected and secure OT and digital services,” he says. “Real-time remote tracking and automated reporting ensure we have strong performance analytics that will feed into condition-based monitoring.”
The key obstacle to achieving this goal is, somewhat ironically, data, or rather too much of it. With so much information travelling around, it can be difficult to determine exactly what is and what is not critical to the operation, with the risk of users being overwhelmed as they try and sift through the data torrent.
“Email is [already] a legacy technology – kids today do not use email”
This is where Mr Skeie sees the immediate gains to be had; from smart software that filters data appropriately, helping, rather than hindering, users. “With current installed technology there are obstacles,” he says. “There is a lot of data coming from the ships, but the quality of that data varies significantly. There are different protocols and proprietary systems, different providers, and data transmission is not straightforward because there are a lot of fragmented systems out there.”
But he explains that the rapid pace of change means that if shipowners are prepared to work together and standardise, such problems can quickly be overcome.
“Data is getting more and more reliable; it is getting better in all senses of the word. And that means it is now possible to accurately filter content and use technology to ensure you only send the necessary data back and forth.”
Mr Skeie advises shipping to look towards start-ups for the solution and enable these innovative providers to work alongside the industry to test, develop and drive forward positive change. “If you really want to unleash the power of digitalisation you need to look towards the start-ups,” he says. “They are the ones with the bright ideas, the new ways of thinking and the new mindsets.
“If we as an industry enable a basic testing infrastructure on board vessels we would be well placed to utilise and benefit from the energy within those types of companies. That is the way we as a sector can truly unleash the power of digital technology.”
Mr Skeie’s comments were made during a Riviera Maritime Media webinar titled Unleashing the power of data to optimise vessel performance, sponsored by Marlink.