Coordinating compliance through digital transformation

Jon Key
Jon Key
V.Group

23 August 2018


The increasing use of electronic certification and digital solutions to manage regulatory compliance is bringing improved accuracy and a joined-up view to maritime business processes.

Since time immemorial, maritime industries have relied upon manual processes and paper to conduct business. Everyone knows where they stand with a hard copy of a document – or so the argument goes, at its most reductive and simplified. While digitalisation has triggered sweeping, revolutionary advances in many other sectors, the marine industry as a whole has been comparatively slow off the mark, in large part because many companies have been loath to commit themselves and abandon the tried-and-tested working practices that have sustained them for decades.

The resistance to change is easy enough to understand, in principle. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is the recurring motto among those holdouts for whom digitalisation represents a bewildering new world of forbidding jargon and, in their view, unnecessary outlay in a worryingly volatile market. The reality is, however, that some of those time-honoured mechanisms are quite often more “broke” than they might acknowledge or even realise – not least where the use of paper certificates is concerned.

Another aspect of modern maritime activity is the necessity to consistently ensure regulatory compliance

The IMO (International Marine Organisation) has already flagged up the disturbing potential for fraud with paper certificates, whereby original documents can relatively easily be forged and altered, with a potentially ruinous knock-on effect on business. Allied to this is the very real danger of paper certificates being lost or damaged in transit; not to mention the cumulatively substantial outlay in time and money if certificates have to be printed and posted. It may not be overstating the case to speculate that targetable, economically inefficient paper certificates could, to all intents and purposes, become a dead format in the not-too-distant future.

Another aspect of modern maritime activity, and one which is becoming increasingly, and for good reason, impossible to backpedal or ignore, is the necessity to consistently ensure regulatory compliance – a largely incurable headache for captains, ship owners and fleet managers alike in the non-digital world. Regulations and environmental control areas introduced in an ongoing attempt to tackle emissions, ecological concerns and improve safety at sea mean that falling behind is neither a viable nor advisable option.

The intercession of a suitably forward-thinking ship management partner helps ship owners to address and overcome these issues, and myriad others, as the maritime industry slowly but inexorably sets a course towards a fully digital future. However, even now, some ship owners still seem of the opinion that if they place their business affairs into the hands of a digitally-equipped ship management company, they will not get the required transparency on what is happening with their fleet. The baseless but profound fear is that they won’t be able to properly monitor what’s going on at sea and within the business, far less influence any decision making.

What’s required at this juncture, and in this context, is reassurance. Hesitant ship owners need to be convinced that allocating ship management operations through a provably efficient marine digital platform, provided by a trusted partner source, will offer them a joined-up, real-time overview and complete business transparency. V.Group’s marine digital platform, ShipSure, was one of the first such systems to wholly underpin a ship management company. V.Group has been steadily developing and refining the platform not just in the way it handles data but also in its practical regulatory capabilities, to the point where the sophisticated ShipSure 2.0 iteration has been introduced, with an app version that became available in January 2018.

With the mobile app, ShipSure 2.0 offers secure, continuously updated data access and data-driven insight to all V-Ships clients, whether they’re in the office or monitoring their fleets on their iOS or Android smartphones and tablets. Clients are promised the best of both worlds: a digital platform that minimises human touch points and therefore reduces the possible introduction of data error, but which also introduces a human element requirement into its automated functionality. In short, it makes no decisions by itself, but is designed to enhance decisions made by customers.

The platform is also designed to build and manage entire certification processes for vessels, ensuring that they’re fit for purpose, managing everything that makes an asset operational and valuable, and making certificates available from one place within the system. As many certificates are now electronic, paper certificates are no longer being scanned into the system. The most obvious advantage of this is that digitised certificates can be shared accurately and simultaneously, so that all relevant parties are privy to one shared view at the same time – a significant step towards the eradication of document fraud.

As V.Group has employed digitalisation to streamline the company’s own internal processes, the benefits have been passed on to clients in the ability to disseminate information quickly and efficiently, leading to a higher standard of bespoke service. In regulatory compliance terms, by way of example, the integrated ShipSure 2.0 system has produced approved monitoring plans for the multiple vessel types within the 650 managed by V-Ships so as to comply with the recent EU MRV (Monitoring, Reporting, Verification) directive regarding CO2 emissions. The digital platform automatically extracts position reports, operational reports and activity reports from vessels; and combining these with the information already held about onboard machinery enables ShipSure 2.0 to automate reporting to the authorities. Likewise, the same approach would be applicable to helping V.Group clients to manage a path to the IMO’s 2020 Sulphur cap.

At the time of writing, the industry is moving in a direction wherein manufacturers of digital ship management platforms are holding conversations with classification societies to discuss the possibility of obtaining an automatic lift-up straight out of the latter’s systems. This would enable the digital platform’s certificate database to be automatically populated with newly issued certificates, as opposed to the lengthier process of receiving the certificates, digitising them, inserting them into the system and then sharing them. The value of ensuring that certification data is accurate is, of course, considerable, enabling clients to make business-critical decisions with a much greater degree of insight. Other conversations revolve around the possibility of analysing collated data from clients across maritime sectors in order to broaden the data set, hone insights and identify potential trends and correlations. In terms of assessing what data and information can be securely shared, the steps are still tentative, of necessity. By working with clients, suppliers and partners, V.Group is able to combine data to drive further insight. For example, combining engine performance data with input relating to costs and premiums from insurance companies could drive value for customers, pinpoint solutions for a range of issues and lead to a far greater holistic understanding of the economics of insurance.

Understanding the drivers of fuel efficiency is another area likely to be of interest, increasingly so as a result of the IMO sulphur regulations and the approaching sulphur cap. Real time engine data can inform preventative maintenance approaches to improve up-time and reduce Opex.•