Shipbrokers face three choices in the digital era: find a digital partner, build an inhouse system or emphasise the need for traditional shipbroking
International shipbroker Simpson Spence Young (SSY) and Signal Ocean Ltd have entered into a strategic partnership as investors to work together to bring high-impact technology solutions to the commercial ship management of dry bulk carriers.
SSY is one of the last global shipbrokers to enter into an arrangement with a high-tech firm. Clarksons has an arrangement with CargoMetrics, BRS is aligned with AXSMarine and Poten & Partners sold to financial services conglomerate BGC Partners.
SSY is a well-known shipbroker will 20 offices globally and employs 400 people. It is said to be the largest privately owned shipbroker. Signal Ocean is a technology start-up with a strong shipping pedigree that successfully launched The Signal Ocean Platform in 2018, offering already widely adopted decision-support solutions to chartering professionals in the larger crude-oil tanker segments.
SSY’s chairman Mark Richardson commented "We are very excited about this new partnership, that enables us to focus on an area of shipping analytics that is fast becoming the differentiator for businesses. As part of our technology strategy, we recognise there is a growing need for cutting edge, data-driven technology in the shipbroking world. Signal Ocean already provides best-in-class solutions to the market and we are looking forward to working together to develop further innovations."
The founder and chief executive of Signal Ocean is Ioannis Martinos who is the former co-chief executive of a family tanker company who left to use his technology skills from MIT to create a platform that predicts short-term tanker supply. He is currently in charge of a shipmanagement company and a software company and is uniquely qualified to see issues from both sides.
Earlier in 2019, Mr Martinos explained to Tanker Shipping & Trade what drove him to set up the digital business. Mr Martinos is part of the Martinos family that extends to Thenamaris, a company he used to run, to Minerva Marine and Eastern Mediterranean Maritime. In 2014, he founded the Signal Group. Signal Maritime provides pool management to a fleet of 14 Aframax tankers using advanced artificial intelligence (AI) software developed by the other part of the Signal Group, Signal Ocean.
Signal Ocean is the technology arm which created the Signal Ocean Platform. This allows charterers, brokers and shipowners to securely process, aggregate, analyse and interrogate a complex array of private and public shipping data. Powered by sophisticated machine learning and AI technologies, the platform processes the available data to deliver customised, exclusive insights for smarter, faster and more informed decision making. It can quickly analyse and predict tanker availability against requirement to ship cargo.
Mr Martinos does not see himself as a disrupter of shipping – a new entrant looking to Uber shipping overnight. He is an insider, coming from a large family of shipping insiders. What troubles Mr Martinos is how to add bottom line value to shipping stakeholders using technology.
Looking at the issue as a shipowner, he knows that if a shipowner has 100 ships, and is offered a new fuel saving device, the shipowner will require firm proof the device works. The device is installed on a ship, and once the owner is satisfied with the evidence, the device is quickly rolled out across the fleet.
Mr Martinos finds this mindset is contradicted when it comes to software. Although the cost is relatively small and does not require retrofitting, the take up is low of digitalisation and AI software.
Looking at the issue as a software provider he finds that one needs to employ the new high level maths, AI and algorithm building tools available today. A lot of these new tools have filtered down from the creation of autonomous cars.
Once shipping companies see beyond the history and try the new software products, there will be a leap forward in adoption and they will be as readily accepted as the steam engine, chronometer and GPS.
By teaming up with SSY, Signal Maritime has access to the scale needed to show other owners and operators the merits of the new dawn in digital shipping.