Digitalisation, cyber technologies, autonomous mobility and artificial intelligence (AI) are the driving forces shaping tomorrow’s shipping industry today, as dozens of Internet service providers and AI specialist firms are attracting much attention this week on the exhibition floor of Posidonia 2018, the world’s most prestigious shipping event, which is hosting a total of 2,010 exhibitors from 92 countries at the Athens Metropolitan Expo till Friday 9th June.
The evolution of shipping from the first to the third industrial revolutions, and from using wind, steam and compasses to oil and satellites, required generations of development, yet it seems that the shipping world today is faced with a revolution which is unfolding with a breakneck speed due to the accelerating advent of new technologies such as the Internet of Things and robotics.
And as the maritime world is trying to adjust to a raft of new challenges emanating out from the regulatory frameworks imposed by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and the corridors of the European Commission, technology companies are always a step or two ahead providing the edge to shipping companies with the will, foresight and budgets to stay ahead of the curve.
But how savvy and prepared are shipping companies today to embark on their digital transformation journeys as timely as other key industries?
According to Robert Squire, Director Thales Certus, this is likely to be a long journey: “The way the shipping industry is approaching digitization is very piecemeal and very reactive. They will only request solutions for specific issues they face at any particular point in time as opposed to approaching digital transformation in a more strategic, long-term approach. Some customers are getting more savvy and are looking for solutions, and what we are trying to advise them is that you can’t change everything all in one go because that doesn’t work.
“Return on investment takes a long time to achieve so transformation needs to happen gradually in an intelligent way with a few quick wins to help you get there at some point in the future,” he added.
While the pace of the adoption of new technologies in shipping is as slow as a tanker’s U-turn, the consensus in the industry is that change is inevitable and that regulatory and competition forces will be the catalysts for companies to adjust to the new realities.
“It’s a survival issue; whoever does not adopt new digital technologies in the coming years will be left on the sidelines,” said Mike Konstantinidis, CEO, Metis Cybertechnology, a Greek company established just 15 months ago to ride on the tide of the impending digitization.
He also notes the slow pace of digital technologies’ adoption by shipping companies worldwide.
“The shipping sector is behind other industries in the adoption of innovative technological solutions and only recently the industry has seen a change with more companies requesting information and expressing interest in cyber technology solutions to help them reduce costs and the complexity coming from the increasing demand for the adoption of the new regulations, as well as to improve crew efficiencies and productivity.”
Konstantinidis is upbeat that demand for digital transformation products and services will increase exponentially over the coming years as AI and machine learning solutions herald a new era in performance management in shipping.
And as more and more shipping companies and fleets adopt digital technologies, other challenges will surface according to Thales.
“Cybersecurity was much of a buzzword for a long time but it now has started to hit home as there are a lot of weak links out there and the more you connect your ships the more opportunities you create for people to hack you like modern pirates,” said Squire.
But the benefits of digitalization outweigh any potential threats.
“Shipping is an industry which relies upon connections between people and for information to be transported in accurate and timely manner, so if we can do that, it means that the industry will become better,” said Squire and he added: “Digitalization will help shipping improve both in terms of security but also in terms of operations.
“Thales is investing heavily in digitalization on a number of pillars; from cyber security for data protection to communications to safety and security issues.”
“The enablers are there today to create the industry change, so now it’s the case of the industry to make that investment but it needs to be done in a measured and gradual way,” Squire concluded.