Digitalisation is often confused with digitisation. While they are related, they are very different things.
Digitisation is the first step: converting analogue information to digital information. Digitalisation, or using the digitised information to improve your systems, comes next.
Digitisation and digitalisation lead to digital transformation, which uses technology to take advantage of the data created by digitalisation.
Scanning your logbook is digitisation; changing to an electronic logbook to reduce workload and improve data quality is digitalisation; syncing your real-time data with your ship manager and analysing it to optimise your emissions is digital tranformation.
UNCTAD’s Digitalizing the Port Call Process report explains, “In order to overcome the challenges that the maritime sector is now facing, the future must embody better and more efficient levels of collaboration. This can best be achieved through digitalisation.”
Shipping is an inherently collaborative industry. Unfortunately, it’s also very traditional. We used to fill in and mail paper forms. We progressed to faxing the same forms. Now we scan and email them. The transmission medium has changed; the system has not.
In a cost-sensitive industry, digitalisation is the next step: bypass the form. Use automated processes to share the data directly with all interested parties. Digitalisation reduces the administrative burden and simplifies data transfer.
Greater digitalisation lowers the barrier to entry for maritime service businesses. Assetless digital technology businesses can compete with larger pre-digitalisation businesses. Small, agile businesses are often more willing to innovate and take risks, forcing the larger players to keep up.
Compared to analogue data, digital data is portable. It’s easy to back up, share and analyse. It’s searchable and simple to verify. Analysis of data allows optimisation and streamlining of processes, leading to cost reductions. These advantages alone explain why companies are so keen to digitalise.
Digitalisation is a key supporting technology for most recent technological developments. Automation, data sharing and analysis rely on digitalised systems. Data from electronic records and internet-of-things (IOT) sensors facilitates everything from navigation and reporting to cargo tracking and payroll.
In the Haven State of Freight Digitalization Survey, 26% of respondents said they needed to automate their manual processes, while 42% agreed that they were looking to invest in further digitalisation of their international processes.
What are the barriers to digitalisation?
In the Haven Survey, 35% of participants agreed that the budget was a major barrier to the automation of freight operations while 21% said there was a lack of adequate technology. 19% felt the struggle was a lack of internal expertise, 13% said it was due to lack of internal resources, and 10% stated it was due to a lack of support from the leadership.
Siloed data is a key barrier to effective digitalisation. Without interoperable tools and systems, we waste resources and opportunities. It leads to an inability to collaborate using the data because it’s in an incompatible format. To make it work, we waste resources to convert and manage multiple versions of the same data. Instead of helping, it creates more work and reduces efficiency.
As companies digitalise, they must integrate cybersecurity in their systems. Security, authentication, encryption, an effective backup strategy and a recovery plan are critical if we want to rely on digital information for key processes and decisions.
What are some examples of digitalisation in the maritime industry?
The challenge isn’t finding examples of digitalisation, but in deciding which examples to include. Digitalisation impacts every sector and task in the industry.
Digitalisation enables digital twin technologies like Kongsberg’s, which allows teams to collaborate from a common model and run test scenarios in a zero-risk environment. They’re even being used to analyse FPSO fatigue and monitor hull condition.
E-certification enables RINA and BV to simplify surveys and verification, and increase transparency. In a different direction, the European Maritime Single Window environment (EMSWe) aims to provide harmonised interfaces to ship operators. Once implemented, operators will be able to provide a standardised maximum data set via the same interface and format across the EU.
Along similar lines, the Maritime Connectivity Platform uses common internet standards to enable secure, reliable electronic information exchange between authorized maritime stakeholders.
Just-in-time (JIT) operations at ports depend on data sharing between parties, including ships, charterers, port facilities, customs and immigration, cargo surveyors and more. The IMO’s Just In Time Arrival Guide identifies the absence of a digital data exchange standard as a substantial barrier to JIT operations. Interoperability and a shared data exchange platform could facilitate more widespread JIT operations. To this end, shipping companies, terminal operators, agents and ports have come together in the International Taskforce on Port Call Optimization to promote port call optimisation.
What’s next for digitalisation?
As large organisations and governments move to digitalised systems, shipping companies will be forced to digitalise to remain competitive. In the coming years, digitalisation will help to improve safety, efficiency and sustainability in the maritime industry.
From knowledge sharing between ports, to interoperability in the container shipping sector, the medium-term focus will be establishing standards. In time, this will facilitate smoother operations, reduce workloads, and make us a safer, more efficient and climate-friendly industry.