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Rising Tide

The digital revolution comes to maritime – at last! – bringing with it the potential to lift all boats.

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Published Oct 11, 2021 1:02 AM by Chad Fuhrmann

(Article originally published in July/Aug 2021 edition.)

Propelled by the appeal of remote services and increased efficiency, software utilization across the maritime market has boomed. The industry today is advancing steadily toward the next significant chapter in its growth as disruption fuels demand for data-driven change.

As experienced navigators will tell you, maneuvering a vessel of any size takes time. Changing tack within the global maritime industry is no different. The adoption of digitalization will take time even as technology swiftly evolves around it. Despite a long history of clinging to processes that one industry leader calls “fundamentally archaic,” the paradigm is shifting as progress gains momentum.

Playing Catch-Up

While the industry has lagged in embracing the digital revolution, “It’s catching up fast, learning from the successes and failures in other industries,” says Cosmo King, Chief Innovation Officer at data analytics company ioCurrents.

Darren Shelton, Chief Product Officer of maritime-focused tech company FuelTrust, agrees: “Data is now considered so indispensable that we will see continued adoption and evolution in the maritime sector.” Meanwhile, industry-unique solutions introduced by software companies are driving advances in both data collection and analysis.

Increasing the global reach of these innovations is an important contributing factor. Khalil Aziz, Lead Director at MariApps Marine Solutions in Singapore, points to the rapid evolution from second generation or “2G” cellular communications to the current “5G” iteration as indicative of the remarkable improvements in digital infrastructure that are facilitating advances in the maritime industry.

The market opportunities for established companies have not gone unnoticed. Steering a large organization through a still-unknown market, however, can be commercially dangerous without the aid of tech savvy guidance. Progressive companies are therefore looking to smaller marine software startups, unfettered by large corporate structures and capable of maneuvering quickly to meet ever-shifting market demands, to lead the charge.

Diversification is a key driver of these relationships. Alongside in-house developments, Inchcape Shipping Services has been actively seeking external partnerships in order to “accelerate digital transformation and increase value for stakeholders throughout the supply chain,” says Tom Hamilton, Vice President of Product Management.

Similarly, Moran Shipping Agencies partnered with FuelTrust to address, as Darren Shelton explains, “serious concerns in the maritime fuels sector due a lack of data transparency.” This relationship further developed into partnerships with other providers such as Viswa Labs to formulate solutions to a variety of issues.

There are some familiar names in the digitalization field. For over three decades ABS Nautical Systems has provided digital fleet management services and tools for day-to-day vessel and fleet operations. “We’re currently focused on ensuring our system efficiently supports our client’s digitalization and decarbonization efforts,” says Evan Gooch, ABS Nautical Systems’ President, describing the development process as constantly evolving.

These cooperative relationships are mutually beneficial. Established industry stakeholders can see the added agility provided by new tech partners. Supporting smaller companies also allows diversification while maintaining the strength of core businesses. In return, startups look to legacy businesses for an understanding of how to apply new technologies to a stalwart industry.

Revolutionizing the Industry

Software and improved data analytics promise to revolutionize the industry by transforming its very foundations. While human resources, inventory tracking and other routine activities may not be exhilarating (to most of us, anyway), they’re the nuts and bolts that keep ships operating and companies viable. It’s in the management of these basic components that organizations are implementing the most remarkable developments.

“An effective software solution is vital to streamline operational and environmental processes in a cost-efficient manner,” says Per Steinar Upsaker, CEO & Managing Director at BASS Software. “Our significant domain knowledge built over many years of experience has allowed us to develop an integrated, Cloud-based solution. With its rich and configurable functionality, data analytics and end-to-end processes, BASSnet is an all-in-one system for safe, efficient, and eco-friendly operations.”

The BASSnet suite is equipped with modules, API integrations, extensive mobile apps and add-ons, delivering a seamless end-to-end experience. Users can centrally manage components, structures, equipment, jobs, materials and documents. Web and mobile apps are available for on-the-go remote access including for audits and inspections on site. With its single and extensive database, BASSnet is a rich source of fleet-wide data.

ABS Nautical Systems’ Enterprise platform has long served the industry in many facets of operational management. While Enterprise preserves its industry presence, ABS is reaching beyond this established service to offer new tools for today’s data-driven industry. Gooch is understandably proud of the company’s expanding portfolio “that can be used to drive efficiency and insight across every operational area.” Interestingly, these tools can be implemented on any vessel regardless of its fleet management system.

Since the inception of its flagship system smartPAL in 2008, MariApps’ platforms have expanded across the full spectrum of management. With partner Rescompany, MariApps offers comprehensive software-based services including passage planning, condition-based monitoring and personnel management – among others. By offering easier, more streamlined approaches to everyday tasks, such digital solutions can improve efficiency across the gamut of operations, ultimately resulting in a better customer experience.

MarineInsight, the platform built by ioCurrents, focuses on overall vessel health and performance with an eye toward reducing tasks and workload that may distract personnel. With a mandate to address the unique needs of each client, ioCurrents relies on teamwork and communication to teach the company’s unique artificial intelligence offerings to build accurate business models.

These digital twins of companies and vessels proactively recommend changes to behaviors or equipment, saving time and reducing errors across the business. “Because no two vessels are the same, we collaborate with our clients and other software providers to ensure you are getting the right answers in the right places at the right time,” says CEO Jesse Brink.

Inchcape, for its part, offers solutions focused on managing the end-to-end workflow during port stays. Its Optic platform increases transparency at every level of interaction, embracing what Hamilton describes as “a multichannel approach for all parties to interact through a Web user interface, smart apps and integration with other enterprise systems.” Inchcape took advantage of the COVID market lull to rebuild another of its digital solutions, World of Ports. Both initiatives leverage data sourced live from the company’s global network to provide enhanced control over various port processes and procedures.

Viewed holistically, these strategies and solutions reveal a common theme. Software companies large and small are filling a growing, and still evolving, need for services that will revolutionize the industry. Success requires cooperation and communication across all areas.

Challenges

As essential as collaboration is for a software-based future, today’s digital providers remain largely independent. Despite requiring the same information and striving for similar objectives, most organizations are using multiple disparate data collection and analysis platforms, none of which interface meaningfully with each other.

FuelTrust’s Shelton confirms that cooperation represents a tremendous challenge: “Commitment to data-sharing is crucial, but the common distrust in the industry remains an issue.” However, he’s equally confident that, thanks to developing tools such as FuelTrust, more and better sharing opportunities are emerging.

Additionally, adapting management software from other transportation industries is challenging, at best, say ioCurrents’ Brink and King, without the unique perspective of those with specific marine industry experience. The darker side, of course, is that personnel may be hesitant to accept and use new technology if they believe their jobs are at risk. Khalil Aziz of MariApps believes that “training of personnel should go hand in hand with development of new technology.”

As the industry looks toward a future of rising degrees of autonomous operations, the human element increases in importance in the decision-making process.

Technology providers are striving to see all sides of these issues and break down the barriers between them. The ultimate objective is more optimized processes that result in improved productivity, awareness and, most importantly, according to ABS Nautical Systems’ Gooch, accountability: “As technology creators, our job is to make it easier to perform more efficiently regardless of the variety of systems installed. Any software system should seamlessly talk to others on board.”

Cybersecurity is another high-profile concern in maritime just as in the wider industrial space, especially as incidents become more frequent. “Increased reliance on technology brings the inherent risk of malicious actors using that technology to bring an organization to its knees,” says Inchcape’s Hamilton – all the more reason to improve cyber infrastructure and software resilience and foster education and cooperation across commercial boundaries to improve security and reduce threats.

Digital Seas

While over seventy percent of the globe is covered by water, digital seas cover the entire planet, and maritime companies must learn to navigate the technology that is enveloping the industrialized world.

Progressive, maritime-focused software companies are already leading industry stakeholders in the integration of new tech developments. Marine-specific software is key to unlocking the greatest value the digital revolution can deliver to the industry. For many software providers, leveraging this technology to drive positive change is at the core of their mission.

But as it becomes more digitally reliant, the marine industry itself must continue its rapid evolution in order to recognize the full potential that awaits in Maritime 4.0. 

Maritime consultant Chad Fuhrmann is a frequent contributor to The Maritime Executive.

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