What has a weather routeing expert got to say about the future of digitalisation across the whole spectrum of shipping operations? Quite a lot, it turned out, when I met Svein Kåre Giskegjerde, vice president for shipping at StormGeo.
StormGeo is a Norwegian company with offices worldwide that supplies weather intelligence and other support services across a number of industries worldwide, including shipping, oil and gas and renewable energy. But acquisitions and other agreements have brought it into a larger orbit that embraces fleet management, data handling and digitalisation.
It has made some important purchases in the past five years: Applied Weather Technology, in 2014, which bolstered its weather routeing in the shipping sector; Nena Analysis in 2016, which allowed it to include weather data into energy market analysis; Nautisk in 2018, adding charts and publications to its portfolio; and, in February this year, it acquired 51% of the Brazilian meteorological services provider, Grupo Climatempo.
StormGeo has been part-owned by DNV GL since 2012 and the class society currently owns 26.4% of the company. Its majority owner is the venture capital company EQT, which holds 56.2% and, earlier this month (9 July), EQT provided finance for another maritime venture: Oakley Capital’s investment in the marine training providers Seagull and Videotel.
StormGeo’s involvement with DNV GL is also operational. In February this year the two companies signed an agreement to consolidate their fleet performance products – DNV GL’s ECO Insight and Navigator Insight and StormGeo’s FleetDSS and ship reporting solutions – into a single fleet performance management programme as part of StormGeo.
Most recently – during the Nor-Shipping exhibition in June – it revealed new versions of Nautisk’s Bon Voyage System (BVS): NaviPlanner BVS and NaviUpdate. In its publicity material at the time, StormGeo said that these updates address “a major challenge in the shipping industry – the lack of connectivity between voyage planning, route optimisation solutions and shore-based decision-making.” Its statement quoted Mr Giskegjerde saying that this improvement would be enough to double BVS’ penetration from its current 6,000 vessels.
He told me that all this route optimisation information would be visible both on the ship and ashore, giving managers the ability to “participate in the decision” being made on the bridge. “They want to know why [the Captain] made this decision. What are the alternatives? Are you sure you’re doing the right thing?”
I put it to Mr Giskegjerde that many captains would see this as meddling with their authority but he believes that some younger ships’ officers “actually need it and feel they need it.” But he conceded that “those have been sailing for 35 years can have a different attitude.” How it is perceived will also be affected by how companies manage this new capability, he suggested.
Weather routeing is at the heart of this extension into remote management. It is one of “the three pillars” of shipping, he said – the others are navigation planning and fleet performance management – “because it influences everything.”
This is all very interesting, but my motivation for meeting Mr Giskegjerde was to talk about the broader topic of data and digitalisation as vehicles that will deliver tangible benefits. StormGeo and its services are good examples of what can be done with better data but can its experience tell us more generally whether more data is always better? Whether sensors are always better than humans at collecting data? Whether there a limit to what digitalisation can do for us?
Let’s take those in turn. Is more data always better? No. “You’ll achieve more with better data than with more data,” he replied. “We see a lot of bad data so start with the quality of the data and then you can work … to increase the amount of data.” I am reminded of the old saying from the early days of computing – ‘rubbish in; rubbish out’ – but it is still relevant today. “We clean a lot of bad data; it’s part of the expertise we have.
”If the source is better, you get that much better output from the analysis,” Mr Giskegjerde said and posed this question for shipowners to consider: “How much data do you actually need? Do you need data from the vessel every minute, or every ten seconds or every ten minutes?”
And is the best data obtained from sensors? Not necessarily. Most data is collected manually and that will continue “for several years to come,” Mr Giskegjerde said. And some automated data “needs a lot of monitoring to see if it is actually of good enough quality.” But surely automation removes human error? I protested. “In theory, that is right. But if it’s not set up correctly or you have a failure with a sensor, you need to manually intervene.”
When data collection goes well, its benefits are impressive. Shortly before I spoke to him, Mr Giskegjerde had heard from a client who told him it had cut fuel consumption by 30% as a result of StormGeo’s weather routeing and other voyage management tools. And it believes it can still do better than that.
So is there a limit to what digitalisation can bring to shipping? The volume of data being created and stored across the industry is huge and growing, but applying it “is in its infancy because most companies are not working on this in a systematic way,” he said. They might have graphs and charts and comparisons, “but you need to put this into decisions.”
To help guide that process, he posed some more questions: “Who should look at the data? How will you look at the data? Are you looking at the right data?” And there must be organisational structures in place that will translate the information that the data reveals into actions. “You need to do it in the right way and for the right reasons,” he said.
Picture Caption: The heading picture shows a typical NaviPlanner chart, with three route options. The shortest is identified by light blue way points. The chart also includes a weather layer displaying significant waves (image supplied by StormGeo)