With nearly 91,000 vessels, the global maritime industry crosses social, economic and geographic frontiers, but it has not yet crossed the data boundary by embracing big data. With connectivity options and speeds improving, ships are beginning to join a data revolution that promises efficiency and cost savings. However, the question remains: what will be the trigger to push the majority of maritime into the digital age?
Frank Coles, CEO of Transas, a provider of specialty IT systems for the shipping industry, neatly summarizes the impact of big data on the global maritime industry: “Big data is all of the data that we are now collecting off of a ship,” Coles said. “Smart data is the ability to sift through that data and get to a place where we can use it in a clever way for analytics.”
It’s an important distinction, especially in an industry widely considered to be conservative in its adoption of new technologies and even further behind in analyzing data to make ship operations more efficient and cost-effective. Thought leaders like Coles intend to change that.
“They are still issuing paper ‘noon’ reports,” Coles said, referring to the tradition of ships reporting to their home offices at noon each day. “The master (ship’s captain) is still bogged down in a plethora of paperwork which should be automated. We need to change attitudes. I think when the next generation (of mariners) gets more involved in owning ships, that will be the drive for change because they come from a different mindset.”
Why change? Because it’s good for the business, proponents say.“Shipping is very conservative, emotionally driven, with people operating as they always have,” said Jonathan Dowsett, senior fleet performance manager for Eagle Bulk Shipping. “Now you have to embrace this new technology and this new approach, which suggests that perhaps you shouldn’t simply conduct your operations as you always have.”Corporate consolidation, an increasingly connected logistics chain and digital natives becoming shipowners are among the trends simultaneously driving shipowners and operators to adopt new solutions. Also helping is steadily rising connectivity speed from VSATs. According to a study by DNV GL, the maximum speed to and from ships was approximately 10 Gbps in 2015. This is expected to dramatically increase to over 200 Gbps by 2025.