Software Sets Sail

It’s taken a while, but software standardization is coming to maritime.

maritime software

Published Sep 18, 2022 12:38 PM by Sean Hogue

(Article originally published in July/Aug 2022 edition.)

“Software is eating the world.” This now-famous quote first appeared in a guest column by billionaire tech visionary Marc Andreessen in the Wall Street Journal back in 2011. Perhaps best known for his $4.2 billion sale of Netscape to AOL in 1998, Andreessen’s quip meant that software companies would disrupt traditional industries to the point they would no longer be recognizable. With software-based companies like Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft making up four of the top five most valuable companies in the world, it’s clear that his vision has come to pass.

The maritime industry is one steeped in tradition and historically slower to change then others.  While certain segments are quick to embrace new technologies, others are still managing operations using the digital equivalent of pen and paper.

Part of the problem is that, while there’s no shortage of sophisticated solutions, many are being developed in silos due to the global nature of the maritime industry. Standardization across the value chain is needed – the technological equivalent of the 40-foot container that revolutionized bulk shipping.

But we’re getting closer.

Technologies developed for a single purpose are now being curated into packages that can manage an entire fleet or industry segment. Innovations from other industries are moving into the marine space faster than ever. Ships are becoming more advanced and interconnected with ports, the office and other stakeholders.

Maritime software is beginning to drink the ocean.

Breaking Barriers

One of the greatest barriers to managing complex IT solutions onboard is well-known, little-understood and often quoted as a reason to not increase investment. You already know what it is – the lack of bandwidth at sea.

A major issue is that software designed for full connectivity using fiber optic bandwidth delivery is being installed on ships and expected to function properly. CEO & Founder of Vancouver-based ShipSafe Maritime Technologies, Sahil Andrews Chand, recognized this problem and developed a suite of network operations center (NOC) tools specifically designed to take into account bandwidth limitations.

Providing IT automation for servers and shipboard networks, the software allows for monitoring and control of the onboard IT infrastructure while automating time-consuming tasks. 

With new requirements outlined in the IMO’s 2021 Cyber Risk Management Code, compliance and future-proofing become challenges. ShipSafe aids with that compliance while reducing costs anywhere from 40-60 percent. The company recently signed an MoU with Danaos Management Consultants S.A. to develop and deploy its AR-based remote inspections suite on fleets worldwide.

Marine software also drives innovative solutions for vessel design, certification and compliance.

Anybody familiar with American Bureau of Shipping (ABS)-classed vessels has likely used the Freedom Portal. This Web-based ERP (enterprise resource planning) system is the digital foundation of ABS’s workflow including design review, tracking and issue of vessel certifications, and management of class approvals. 

The portal is undergoing a major update for 2023. The update will add a product lifecycle management (PLM) component, eventually becoming the base for a class-approved digital twin. The sophisticated data management system will be utilized through the complete build cycle – from design to delivery.

A unique aspect of ABS’s philosophy is its “CAD-nostic” approach to design submissions.  Rather than prescribing CAD as the standard, it allows for disclosures in any format. The team then transforms those into what is needed for its internal workflow. While labor-intensive, it allows the industry to continue innovating and accounts for the unique needs of individual clients.

In a sign of things to come, ABS classed the first U.S. commercial vessel designed and verified using a complete, end-to-end 3D design process, eliminating traditional production drawings, saving time and costs and further improving the value chain.

Fleet Management & Vertical Optimization

Software packages aren’t just used onboard but for full-spectrum fleet management as well. 

MariApps Marine Solutions, a member of the Schulte Group, is a digital solutions provider that specializes in custom applications and software for the maritime industry. With its partner companies Rescompany (Resco) and OnboarD, it offers a broad spectrum of software solutions to the cruise industry to improve operational efficiencies, performance and monitoring capabilities – both onboard and ashore.

Each of the three companies focuses on a specific suite of products ranging from fleet management and performance to PMS, inventory management and onboard services. The combined offerings cover all facets of the cruise industry, allowing for a single source solution.

MariApps smartOps offering is a voyage performance solution maintained onboard and remotely monitored. It helps meet regulatory requirements for sustainable shipping by providing operational optimization, weather routing and carbon reduction.

Fleet optimization is a requirement for ship owners, but how to impact all stakeholders though the value chain?

Harbor Lab looks to build trust in the maritime ecosystem through transparency and innovation. Its innovative e-disbursements platform optimizes the Disbursement Accounts Analysis and Port Cost Management process, resulting in significant efficiencies in time and cost savings while keeping the DAs control in-house. It also offers DA outsourcing to supplement personnel requirements and connect via a simple platform shipowners, management companies and charterers with agents and vendors at ports worldwide.

The DA tool helps streamline appointments, provide port cost analysis and submit RFQs for vessel services around the globe. It also has a port cost estimator and fleet tracker that handles weather monitoring and operations organization.

The end result is a single page with seamless solutions to aid stakeholders in optimizing and automating key processes evaluating costs related to a vessel’s port activities.

Path to Success

A common theme in tech news is acquisition-based growth to create a curated group of offerings that provide a comprehensive solutions package to a specific market. The marine software space is no different.

Veson Nautical is widely regarded as the largest commercial software vendor in the maritime space. While other companies have downsized to focus on a select few offerings, Veson went in the other direction. It’s also leading the way in software standardization for the maritime industry.

Its enterprise-grade solution, Veson IMOS Platform (VIP), propels maritime commerce for over 300 organizations in more than 60 countries. Blending chartering, operations, financials and analytics with big data, the platform touches all points of the supply chain through a single integrated set of connected workflows. It aims to reduce operational burdens and enable maritime stakeholders to make more informed, data-driven and timely decisions.

Building on its stated vision of becoming the standard platform for the global fleet, Veson acquired maritime SaaS provider Q88 LLC earlier this year. Founded in 2001, Q88 has been building marine freight solutions for over 20 years. Highly regarded in the tanker and bulk sectors, the company’s products are designed to streamline operations, accelerate communications and improve safety.

Both companies see the acquisition as an opportunity to learn and adapt from each other. Veson’s customers will gain access to Q88’s complementary suite of offerings while Q88 customers will benefit from rapid iteration and improvement of their existing product lines.

The acquisition is also a case study in market segmentation and industry fit. Q88’s VMS is a similar software to the Veson VIP offering. However, rather than consolidating the platforms, it’s clear there’s a market for both – creating product diversity and the custom-tailoring of solutions to meet clients’ requirements. Fit the solution to the customer rather than the other way around.

Innovators – Apply Here

The rate of technological development is staggering. It’s estimated that 90 percent of the world’s data has been collected in the past two years alone. Seventy percent of all organizations are either developing a digital transformation strategy or have one already in process.

This digital model has been proven to increase operational efficiency, allow faster time to market and better meet customer expectations. But having the technical background doesn’t mean you have the business acumen to bring your solution to market.

This is where the incubator model pioneered in Silicon Valley comes in. The innovative leaps and new ideas are often generated by new kids on the block. 

ESG-focused digital maritime platform RightShip announced a new collaboration last month with Plug and Play, one of the world’s most successful global innovation platforms. Led from RightShip’s Singapore based Innovation Hub, the collaboration allows each company to focus on its area of expertise while elevating the shipping industry as a whole.

Plug and Play provides accelerator programs around the globe and across various industries, providing venture capital to the most promising startups. RightShip, meanwhile, is the largest maritime due diligence organization in the world with a focus on safety, sustainability and social responsibility.

The partnership will see Plug and Play curate emerging maritime-focused technology startups that complement RightShip’s business – with a specific focus on sustainability. RightShip will then collaborate with these startups to scale their solution and increase their reach within the sector.

This benefits RightShip by advancing its vision of zero harm in the sector while providing startups an accelerated path to market. The entire industry benefits as a result.

Headed for Blue Water       

The advance of software into our personal lives is evident and has touched every aspect of our lives from how we travel and eat to shop and play.

The change taking place now in the maritime industry will be likewise all-encompassing. Smart use of software will enable operational efficiencies and collaboration on a level as yet unheard of. Maritime software has set sail, and standardization is coming. – MarEx

Sean Hogue is Senior Vice President of Operations at Baker Marine Solutions.

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