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digital

What are the key ingredients to maritime’s digital journey?

Digital success in maritime rests on defining the problem and then creating the solution, says Andy McKeran, LR’s M&O Commercial Director.

Attentions may centre on what the ‘new normal’ post COVID‑19 will look like for marine and offshore, but for Andy McKeran (pictured right), LR Commercial Director for Marine and Offshore, there is simply no question that now is the time to be in the industry.

“Maritime is absolutely the place to work because there aren’t many other industries where you have the chance to participate in such an impactful transformation in such a short period of time. It is a sector ripe for change and transformation,” he states, pointing to the adjacencies in other industries where technology – particularly in power generation, aviation and automotive – has delivered huge benefits.

“Some may see sustainability and digitalisation as being disruptive, but they bring opportunity. It’s not about change that is short‑lived. It’s very much about all of us getting stuck in – engaging, collaborating and partnering to move the industry forward. It will take willpower and determination to drive this change and, as an industry, maritime is perfect.”

However, there are some caveats, says McKeran, who joined LR last February after spending more than two decades at General Electric (GE). “I have seen many companies developing solutions and then going to try and find the problem, instead of truly defining the problem that you want to solve and only then creating the solution. This has led to a jigsaw puzzle of solutions that don’t do what they said they would do. Subsequently, the industry loses trust in tech promises and more specifically digital solutions,” he explains, reiterating the importance of a collective effort to resolve future challenges.

“We need to recalibrate the whole industry and move away from the silos that we have today. By aggregating siloed data sources and using analytics, we can provide insights and outcomes to clients that will reduce their overall operational expenditures, and maintain their individual competitive advantage where needed,” he says.

“An example of this type of approach in LR is the introduction of the Structural Health Management solution, where we are driving to reduce the operational downtime caused by tank inspections on ships, floating or fixed assets. Production losses on offshore assets can climb into the millions per year, and this approach will inherently increase the safety. Therefore, we have created models capable of integrating multiple data sources, including environmental, sensors and control systems, to aggregate, assess and ultimately predict the tank condition.”

For LR, this technology innovation, development and deployment is critical to contribute to the creation of the pathway to a sophisticated class regime and services in the next few years. Technologies that enable owners and operators to apply the most appropriate planned, condition‑based, risk‑based or predictive maintenance or inspection methodologies will save them millions a year and increase personnel safety levels. This adds benefits of remote capability that many have come to recognise during the pandemic, without putting extra burden on the ship’s crew.

McKeran is quick to stress the advantages of having access to indicators that can inform prompt and effective decisions as knowing what is happening in the moment and how to act can be the difference between success and failure. The ferocious late‑2014 decline of the offshore market, when he was the Offshore Business Leader at GE, was a case in point for him.

“It’s really important to understand what’s happening early enough to be able to do something about it. The [offshore] market just dropped off a cliff face and we hadn’t picked up on the anomalies in market behaviours. It meant that we didn’t make decisions quick enough and this caused pain within the sector – for both our clients and employees.

“The lesson from this was to focus on indicators, keep an ear to the ground and stay pragmatic, even during boom times. In fact, this is when you need to be questioning yourself the most. You shouldn’t grow fat when the market grows as that’s the time to go lean and put process and practice in place, because the tough times will come as they inevitably do – given the cyclical nature of marine and offshore.”

With more than two decades in the industry under his belt in roles ranging from shipyard commissioning, field services, project management, and more recently running the offshore and global marine businesses of GE, the BSC Electrical Engineering graduate has first‑hand experience of cyclicality of the sector.

A desire to take maritime safely and sustainably into the future is what spurred his decision to join LR. He points to the organisation’s “rich pedigree of trust” and its engagement with stakeholders across the sector, which is different from that at an OEM. McKeran was keen to “sit at the heart of influence, effect change and bring the industry to where it deserves to be and where it can be”. That said, he accepts that there will be challenges ahead.

There are already many examples of where digitalisation has been introduced into the industry that has brought clear benefits. But this process, he says, must focus on stepping stones to a digital transition as opposed to a wholesale and immediate transformation, with trust being an essential ingredient.

“Navigating the future just can’t be done alone. Digitalisation will change the framework of traditional contracting. But it must be built around trust, mutual benefit and respect,” he says, adding that accelerated digital take‑up in offshore and naval is due to trust being inherent in those industries.

More importantly, it also relies on those purporting change to practice what they preach. “We can’t simply go out and lecture to the world about what we think they should be doing. Any vision of the future relies on us digitising what we do. After all, we have to eat our own lunch”.

Horizons

Read more articles like this in our Horizons magazine.

Horizons brings together insight into current trends and hot topics in the maritime and offshore sectors, alongside expert views from our people on regulation, safety and innovation.

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