Onboard director Florus Wilming urges the shipping industry to embrace application programming interfaces in 2021 to overcome connectivity and collaboration challenges ahead
Digital transformation is a global megatrend transforming the business landscape. However, its impact in the maritime industry has so far been limited.
This is not due to a lack of interest or initiatives. Rather, it is mostly due to two key challenges; collaboration and connectivity – challenges which are common to digital transformation anywhere, but which have very specific implications for the maritime industry.
Shipping needs to find ways to overcome these challenges together, taking the right approach to fully benefit from emerging digital technologies.
Digital innovation needs collaboration for many reasons, but in particular, to keep up with the pace of innovation, and because disruptive technologies change how companies compete.
This forces us to re-evaluate our value chains, build new partnerships, and find new business models.
Many established maritime players have launched initiatives to accelerate collaboration and digital innovation.
There have been efforts to develop standards for data exchange for smart containers, autonomous shipping, and more, and many players have launched their own programs with inhouse development teams.
But what we often see, is talk of standards is slow and efforts to develop digital solutions by established players fail to gain widespread adoption.
The nature of the industry means that other established players are unwilling to adopt solutions built by competitors, and there may even be a degree of resistance to transparency in the industry.
Another potentially valuable area for collaboration is between corporates and startup ecosystems. In recent years, there have been increasing numbers of startups, venture capital investments, accelerators and incubators.
However, due to a range of reasons including oversupply, pressure on margins, an unfamiliarity with agile and iterative development processes, clash of cultures, and a different appetite for risk, many collaboration attempts fail.
Startups that fail and are taken over by corporates, or are taken over to create synergies meet the same fate as those solutions developed inhouse.
Connectivity is another challenge maritime faces in its drive to apply digital transformation. Data is the fuel that drives digital innovation.
More specifically, massive datasets from people, things and processes that are analysed to detect trends and patterns, make predictions, or automate business processes.
The benefits of this are obvious. But not as well understood, is that it is very difficult to make the connections needed to access the data.
Before digitalisation in the maritime industry can reach its full potential, and because many digital innovation initiatives rely heavily on the effective use of operational data from ships, we must find a way to connect our maritime assets, people and processes.
The go-to technology for making these connections in today’s digital world is the application programming interface (API).
This allows software to communicate and share data with other software, providing a flexible integration layer where you can plug in and out data sources and decouple complex systems.
The strategic importance of APIs has not escaped the maritime industry’s attention. In fact, more and more software tools have their own dedicated APIs, which allow users to integrate those solutions into their wider application landscape. This is a great start, and a development that should be encouraged.
But what if operators had an API for vessels that could open up the data flow of machines and humans across their whole fleet and make it accessible to other users?
In fact, this potential has already arrived. Vessel APIs will be a game-changer for the industry.
Emerging maritime technology providers are developing edge solutions that support a wide range of maritime data protocols, which can run applications used by the crew. These emerging providers are connecting crew, making vessels smart, and providing users a single endpoint to all their data, establishing a truly universal connection to our maritime assets, people, and processes.
APIs are the perfect model for those exchanges because they provide a definition of both the provider and the consumers, as well as a way for the interactions to be secured and managed.
Maritime businesses are just beginning to leverage vessel APIs to kick-start collaboration, sharing data and services and integrating with customers and supply chain partners.
Possible use cases to leverage APIs that we are seeing include fleet performance optimisation, operational analytics, maintenance decision support, predictive maintenance and compliance.
APIs can be used for automating business processes, such as using fleet data for planning, billing and maintenance tools.
These are all very exciting areas to be explored. But the most exciting part is that the real potential of API-powered connectivity and collaboration is yet to be discovered – incredible innovation is possible.
Who knows the possibilities? With the right collaboration and connections, we may even have Uber-sized opportunities ahead of us.
Onboard founder and director Florus Wilming was one of the panellists on Riviera’s How the cloud is delivering fleetwide benefits webinar. This event was sponsored by Tototheo Maritime and held on 9 December as part of Riviera’s Vessel Optimisation Webinar Week