How Open Data Could Save Our Oceans


Published Aug 13, 2018 8:55 PM by Nor-Shipping

According to data strategy and governance pioneer Steven Adler, the maritime industry must share its huge volume of data if it wants to prosper. Adler sees ships as platforms just waiting to be utilized to help us to manage our fragile ocean environments. He believes the data they collect can be pooled to unlock unique insights into the state of the ocean, the trends in its development, and the ways in which we can exploit resources while actually safeguarding and supporting its well-being.

“The value of any data is directly proportional to its utility – if you want to increase the value of data you have to increase its use,” Adler says. “One maritime organization collecting data for its own purposes can never maximize the value of that data. For one thing, they can only compare it to their own data and, even if you’re a company with a lot of ships, you only have a tiny proportion of the 80,000 vessels in the world fleet. That means your observations and insights will be very narrow."

Adler knows what he’s talking about. A veteran of his field, he spent 21 years at IBM, ending up as chief data strategist, patenting the IBM Enterprise Privacy Architecture and helping lead and communicate the global giant’s overall corporate vision. He is recognized as a key figure in the establishment of the fields of internet insurance, data governance, data strategy and people data, and in 2015 he was appointed to the US Commerce Department's Data Advisory Council (CDAC), the first body of its kind focused on how data could improve economic growth.

Empowering change 

“Look at what the open data movement has achieved in the civic environment,” he says. “This is a simple idea embraced by most major cities around the world - making their data open relating to issues such as transportation routes, public services, arrest rates and so on, so it’s available to anyone that wants to access and use it. Suddenly we see it being leveraged by third parties, for example by software vendors that utilise it to create important new services, jobs, innovations and wealth.

“How? Well, real estate applications that use census data to provide prospective homebuyers with information on neighbourhoods. Or restaurant guides that use food hygiene inspection data as part of recommendation criteria. Or civic planning groups that open up planning applications to the community for opinions and expert input on new developments and their impacts and advantages for local areas. Look at your phone – how many of your apps use openly available data to provide you with valuable services?

“This is a good thing. A very good thing. Societies benefit and businesses benefit in ways that those that originally gave access to the data could never possibly have imagined.” 

“Now we need the private sector to step up and publish open data about the oceans in real time… and we need this urgently.  If we don’t act, and get a lot of things right in the next 10 years, we face catastrophic biodiversity loss in our oceans.”

Priceless potential 

Adler says that, with the proliferation of sensors and digital technology now available, more data has been collected on the oceans in the past two years than in the entire history of the planet prior to that. But if it’s not shared, its full value will never be realized.

On the subject of privacy he is quick to clarify that maritime and ocean businesses will not, and should not, be asked to share either business critical or personal data. “We don’t want that, we don’t need that,” he states. “We want the information that they, that you, are collecting on our world.”

The data collected could be priceless, he says. “Not only can we continue to refine energy efficiency and performance, but we can gain in-depth knowledge of temperature variations, tidal flows, plastic pollution, weather pattern development, deoxygenation, new marine life… the list goes on. 

“We can use existing and new technology to help manage fish stocks, create safer and more efficient vessel movements, position wind and tidal farms, open up new tourism possibilities, develop smart aquaculture, protect urban coastal zones . . . to develop ocean activity in not only a sensible, responsible manner, but in an informed, intelligent way, with concrete data to enable better decision making. The value of the data is only limited by our imagination."

Inevitable shift

Adler, who stepped down from IBM last year, and now enjoys a number of advisory and consultant roles, is speaking after an invitation from Nor-Shipping to participate in its ground-breaking Opening Oceans Conference (OOC). This focused on developing new, lucrative and sustainable business opportunities within the ocean environment. His message to the audience, as well as the wider maritime industry, is simple: “Share. And the sooner the better.”

“Within the next three years the maritime and ocean industries will establish a culture of sharing data,” he predicts. “It’s inevitable. The benefits it will bring for sustainability, both environmentally and commercially, are simply too great to ignore. We have the infrastructure to do it today – it’s called the cloud – and the curiosity, talent and determination of countless millions of minds to extract real value from it. So, what are waiting for? Let’s unleash the power of your data."

This article appears courtesy of Nor-Shipping and has been edited for length. It may be found in its original form here

Nor-Shipping is where the maritime and ocean industries meet every two years – a natural hub for key decision makers from across the world to connect, collaborate and do deals to unlock new business opportunity. This is your arena for ocean solutions. The next Nor-Shipping conference in Oslo will be held from June 4-7, 2019.

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