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Digitalization in 2018 ? The Data Floodgates are Open

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By MarEx 2018-01-07 09:10:13

by Ilmo Kuutti

Most pieces looking at the year ahead will tend to say that we’re on the cusp of something – on the edge of a breakthrough that makes the upcoming year more exciting than the last. When it comes to digitalization, however, the argument could be made that we’re already passed several tipping points in recent years that have already set a process of exponential acceleration in motion. 

For instance, the increased number of satellites in orbit in the last few years now means we can track and analyze the voyages of vessels all over the world. This now forms the backbone of a plethora of tracking and monitoring systems. Investment in data is now essential for anyone wishing to compete. The likes of DNV GL and ClassNK are setting up huge data centers to leverage their vast stores of information, and all newbuilds coming out of forward-thinking yards like Hyundai Heavy Industries are ‘intelligent’ vessels – full of sensors and data-collecting ability.

Against this backdrop, we can say with certainty that digital development will never again be as slow as it is today. So, now that the floodgates are open, how do we stay afloat? In a world where access to data has seemingly become ubiquitous, how do we as a software and data company stay relevant?

In 2018, here are some of the three main challenges that we are looking forward to tackling:

Democratizing Big Data

Despite the appearance that data is everywhere, we need to bear in mind that around 90 percent of the global fleet does not have access to onboard monitoring and optimization equipment, which can be costly to install and operate – and thus risks missing out on much of the benefits of digitalization. 

This is why in 2017, NAPA launched Fleet Intelligence. This tool takes data such as AIS, chart, weather and environmental data and applies advanced algorithms, based on our knowledge of ship performance modelling and hydrodynamics to deliver insights. This allowed us to create the first tool that decouples performance monitoring from onboard equipment and brings the benefits to a far wider segment of the industry. 

In 2018, we’ll be looking at this platform to see how we can increase the depth and breadth of the insights it can provide, and increase the benefit to the widest possible number of users.

Turning Data into Intelligence

Regardless of availability, collecting and storing data on its own is simply a cost. To be anything else, it must be analyzed and transformed into useful information. This is where maritime software and data specialists like NAPA must push themselves to add value.

On its own, AIS data can be useful in tracking, but to truly deliver value we must enter the world of Big Data analytics - using data from multiple available data sources such as AIS, EU-MRV monitoring, weather, tidal information and even onboard data through increased ship to shore connectivity to derive answers to the questions owner, operators, shippers and charterers are asking. We now have access to advanced 3D ship models and hydrodynamic algorithms that we can combine with these datasets to give us a good idea of how a ship will be performing under given conditions. 

It’s the specialist domain knowledge, coming from decades in the maritime industry, that can be a barrier to entry for many IT companies entering shipping for the first time. Just because something is easily measurable – like AIS – doesn’t mean it’s significant on its own. It takes industry knowledge to know where to look to turn data into insight.

IT providers need to operate in a way that helps manage the issues that keep supply chain stakeholders up at night:  Are ships following the agreed operational profile? Can anything be done to reduce fuel spend? Has the cargo been loaded safely? Are my shore-based teams getting what they need to be as productive as they can be?

Bringing it all together

If data is truly going to be for everybody, it needs to take account of the nature of the global fleet. As vessels have a lifetime of 20-30 years, we need to get better at managing a range of inputs and information, from ships built at different yards with different technologies and standards. We must remain aware that there is much of our industry still working on paper noon reports at the same time as others have access to a new world of planning, routing and efficiency insights. All of this data – when combined in the right way – can be valuable. We just need to make sure we operate in such a way that we can capture and use as much of it as possible.

If we can do this right, the future looks very exciting. EU MRV is already taking emissions data and putting it into the public domain – where it can very easily be turned into fuel efficiency data. With the profusion of Emissions Control Area regulations and the upcoming sulfur cap, there will be even more data on the table that was previously only held by shipping companies. 

Only by meeting the challenges above can we ensure that these developments are not just a box-ticking exercise – but a chance to help maritime businesses of all sizes thrive.

Ilmo Kuutti is President of NAPA Group.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.