The digital revolution is moving with relentless speed, but the commercial maritime sector has been slow to embrace the pace of change. Navigation expert Nautisk believes the early adopters of digital technologies will be those that profit most from the ‘fourth industrial revolution’. Digital technology is enhancing our lives, whether you like it or not. From our cell phones and apps to online banking, good digital is designed to streamline how we do things. When it’s performance driven, it saves time, money and energy. In a business context, that must be a good thing. Of course, on the whole digital marks a step change in business efficiency, but across the globe corporations are facing the challenge of embracing the idea of change – and then implementing it. It’s human nature that there is resistance to change, because it means introducing an element of risk, especially when the change involves a move to technologies that are new. Risk ranges from the size of the capital outlay required, or the perceived cost of training, to failures of technology adoptions in the past that echo a warning. Bill Clinton once said: “The price of doing the same old thing is far higher than the price of change”, so how does our sector balance the commercial pressure to trade at a profit with the pressure to bring ourselves into the modern era? Well, in truth it’s possible to achieve both in a way that will derive long-term performance and benefits for any business.
Enabling improvement through technologyDigital technology must be seen as an enabler, not a panacea. A piece of technology will not deliver the desired benefits unless it’s used in the right way, in the right place and by people who know how to use it. The key here is to get the planning right from the outset. At Nautisk we like to meet face to face with our potential customers. This is not about ‘hard sell’. It’s about reviewing how the customer does things, and where our navigation technologies can fit. Since most of our products are available on subscription, there is no advantage for us to mis-sell a digital solution if it offers no long-term benefit. Our customer loses, and so do we. That’s why we take service so seriously. We make ourselves available literally 24/7, because it’s important that our products are used in the best way for the customer. So in the planning process if there are desired and defined outcomes for your organisation, the availability and choice of digital technologies becomes similarly defined, eliminating a layer of risk.
Should capital outlay rule out investment?It’s a broadbrush statement but yes, the capital outlay for certain digital technologies can seem cost prohibitive. It can certainly prove to be an expensive mistake if the technology is wrong for your business and fails to deliver the benefits you hoped for. While an investment in digital technologies is unlikely to be of the scale that would contribute to another Hanjin Shipping collapse, any financial risk in a margin-hit industry like ours must be considered carefully. An overriding consideration here is the broad range of compliance issues for ship operators that makes a technological investment necessary. ECDIS is a good example of this. SOLAS Regulations mean each vessel requires ECDIS, and they come at a typical cost of between $US10,000 and $US30,000 per vessel. While this is an expense, the benefits of the technology do make some sense. Administration on the bridge is reduced and navigation is enhanced – so it’s a positive step forward in terms of cost and safety. Many technologies can be viewed in a similar way. Leasing is an option that can eliminate or reduce capital outlay on technologies such as ECDIS. For example, we’re working with SRH Partnership to provide vessels with a state-of-the-art Danelec ECDIS system bundled with our NaviPlanner™ route planning software at a fixed monthly cost. There’s no capital outlay, which reduces risk and makes the investment affordable. Futhermore the subscription enables use of the technology over a defined period of time. When the lease ends a new contract – or new hardware and software – can be put in place, future-proofing the expense so that you achieve long-term benefits. It’s also allowable expense to put against tax in most territories.
Delivering long-term benefit in operationThe key to deriving long-term benefit is how the digital technology performs at the point of use. Whatever technology you invest in – whether it’s connectivity, logistics, navigation, tracking or energy saving – it should deliver a benefit. This could be quantified in many ways, such as cost savings, time efficiencies, reliability, reduced emissions, customer service, safety and more. At Nautisk our expertise is in navigation, but the range of benefits we consider when developing digital technologies are shared by many of the good quality digital technologies that enhance modern commercial shipping. For example, digital assets for the most part require connectivity. We have ensured our digital charts and publications can easily be handled via the standard VSAT trunk that most vessels will already have on board, and software like NaviPlanner™ operates on existing hardware running Windows 7 or above eliminating capital outlay. We’ve also developed our own protocol that combats poor data speeds and signal, which can be an issue with satcoms during a voyage. ECTP (Efficient Content Transfer Protocol) reduces file size through data compression and resumes downloads from last drop out to maintain file integrity, and is used across our digital portfolio. For the shipping company the result of the digital implementation can be many fold. In the case of digital charts and publications, by way of example, there is:
- a cost saving against shipping of printed charts and publications
- a time saving because the charts are downloaded in seconds and updated automatically
- a productivity improvement because bridge officers can work more effectively and therefore focus on other important jobs
- better budgeting because subscriptions can be managed monthly, and per vessel or per fleet
- space saving because shelves of literature can be replaced by a tablet such as our NaviTab
- a CO2 saving compared to air freight of the documents alongside and fewer trees pulped for print, so you help save the planet too!