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Horizons article 01 June 2023

Have we reached a tipping point in maritime innovation?

  • Digital transformation
  • Autonomy
  • AI
Issue 61

The pandemic sped up the adoption of digital processes in maritime. So how far is the industry on its path to digital transformation? Horizons spoke to Lloyd’s Register’s Head of Marketing for Maritime Performance Services, Mark Warner, to assess how five key digital pivots are transforming our industry.

Mark Warner

Strategic Content and Partnership Director, Lloyd's Register

Digital transformation is reshaping the global maritime business, bringing a new era of innovative uses of data to help with the decarbonisation and optimisation of shipping. A recent report by Thetius at the end of the last year highlighted that the pandemic has accelerated digitalisation by over three years, powered in part by the need to move away from physical or manual processes.

In assessing maritime’s progress on the digitalisation journey, Head of Marketing for Lloyd’s Register’s Maritime Performance Services, Mark Warner, has looked to what senior executives in all industries consider necessary for transformation – otherwise known as ‘digital pivots’, as told by those execs to Deloitte. “There are other ‘pivots’ but I would say from my perspective of working with and talking to a number of shipping companies over the last twenty five years, those highlighted below are absolutely key to digital maturity in shipping.” Here, he shares an update on why we are closing in on the tipping point for maritime innovation by diving into detail around each pivot and their level of maturity in the sector.

A flexible, secure and connected communications infrastructure both onboard ship and ashore.

“In a maritime context, this specifically relates to connectivity and the cyber resilience of that infrastructure,” says Warner. “Connectivity can mean a lot of different things to different people but from a commercial maritime perspective there is a requirement for high-speed broadband as an enabler for digital transformation with at least speeds of between 4-8mbps and ideally more. Don’t forget that until about seven years ago, there was just the Inmarsat L-Band global offering through Fleet Broadband which was only offering speeds of up to 564kbps. Since then, there has been a huge increase in the number of VSAT providers and the speeds and capacity available”.

“There’s a widespread misperception that satellite communications are hugely expensive and as a result not widely used”, he continues. “In fact, what we’re seeing is a real increase in satcoms usage, especially since the pandemic, both for crew welfare and operations".

“Pre-pandemic, the average commercial merchant vessel was transferring around 3 gigabytes per day, on and off board. Now it’s more like 12-14 gigabytes per day. That’s a fourfold increase in data consumption per ship over 18 months. Satellite network providers are catering for this trend, with Inmarsat now fine-tuning its new ORCHESTRA all-in-one system which include LEO and terrestrial services, plus a host of new low earth orbit satellite networks such as Starlink and Oneweb now actively targeting the maritime industry”.

“Capacity for connectivity is just going to increase and increase – Starlink are already offering downloads of over 100mbps for their initial maritime service", concludes Warner, “and with so much competition the price of packages will come down as well, which means that we have reached a tipping point for this pivot”.

“On cyber security, there have been several high-profile maritime issues, so most companies now have their own IT and cyber security department or outsource this to a third party. IACS, the International Association of Classification Societies, has also set recommendations on cyber security and there are some very sophisticated cyber resilience packages in place or starting to be put in place; everyone realises you need a tight security blanket around your communications infrastructure”.

Scales graphic with one large and one small ball finding balance.

Intelligent and automated workflows, including moving from digitising processes to full digitalisation and autonomy

Here, Warner explains that merely automating manual processes – or ‘digitising’ – is not enough. Digitalisation requires “a changing of business resources and processes as well”. There’s still confusion around automating workflows and data collection, he feels, but that companies are “starting to work out what needs to be digitised and what can be digitalised. In other words, change businesses processes, and bring in experts or ‘digital talent’ to assist with this”.

“Shipping companies are beginning to understand why data quality is important”, he says, “and maximising their use of data rather than creating data silos where software providers don’t talk to each other”. He gives the example of flexible ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems which work in an automated and intelligent way - such as that offered by Hanseaticsoft, LR’s cloud-based ship management solution - which he describes as really ‘sweating the data’ and using across multiple functions from planned maintenance to procurement and crewing.

Data maturity including the collection, transfer and analysis of data from ship to shore and the avoidance of data silos

Transferring data ashore for its analysis and use requires a suitable platform for integrating all the collected inputs, and this is becoming even more important with requirements for emissions reporting and the new Carbon Intensity Indicator (CII), says Warner. Fuel monitoring, both for environmental and cost reasons, is going to become increasingly vital.

“I would say that we are not quite at tipping point for this particular pivot, as there’s going to be real step change in how to get that data”, he says, “how to get it off vessel quickly and use it in an intelligent manner”.

Requirement of digital talent

Warner believes this point is hugely important but often overlooked in a sometimes conservative and inwards-looking industry such as shipping. “If you haven’t got people who are digital-savvy and understand how to use data, you’re not going to be digitally mature”, he says. “We’re finding now that companies have digital strategies and have positions like Chief Digital Officer or Digital Transformation Officer, ‘data scientists’ and the like. It is amazing how the conversation changes when you have digital talent in an organisation”.

“People coming in need to have a real understanding from a business perspective, not merely a technical one, of the needs of a shipping company that is undergoing digital transformation”, he states. “They’re being put there to change digital attitudes internally”.

Balancing shapes, pink backdrop.

Collaboration and the establishment of digital spin-offs, partner ecosystems and start-up accelerators

“There has been a noticeable shift in companies working far more closely in the last five years. It’s not just pairings between comparable businesses. Maritime accelerator programmes are focusing on key topics like decarbonisation or safety – Safetytech Accelerator, established by Lloyd’s Register Foundation and LR, is a fantastic example of this. Others such as Rainmaking and Pier71 have developed their own accelerator programmes around decarbonisation in recent years”.

“Another trend has been for large and medium-sized shipping companies and ship managers to spin out their own digital divisions so they can work with other companies – these include OrbitMI, AlphaOri and ZeroNorth”.

In short, Warner believes shipping is making good progress in adopting all five ‘pivot points’ that he sees the industry as needing in order to fully embrace digital transformation, which in turn will prove the ‘tipping point’ for real innovatory change.

AI holds the key

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is one of the fastest growing and potentially most transformative of all the digital technology sectors in the maritime industry, with its ability to process vast quantities of data quickly and cost-effectively and to detect patterns that would otherwise not be visible.

That was the finding of a report LR commissioned from consultants Thetius earlier this year, which stated: “The integration of AI in autonomous shipping, safety and navigational support systems, and vessel optimisation solutions, will deliver immense value to users when implemented properly and efficiently.”

To help maritime stakeholders manage their use of AI more easily and with greater confidence, LR Marine Performance Services issued an industry-first Artificial Intelligence (AI) Register in November last year. The Register lists LR-recognised AI providers and solutions, and initially comprised the offering of six major groupings, in categories that included Cloud (Smart) Platforms, Digital Twins, Data-Driven AL (Machine learning), Knowledge-based Ai, Natural Language Process and Neural Networks.

Overseeing launch of the Register was LR’s Director of Innovation and Co-creation, Luis Benito. He explains that the company has since received a large number of enquiries from smaller companies, many of them start-ups, with AI applications seeking to be listed. These are currently being assessed.

LR created an assurance framework in 2018, which has already been applied to AI applications currently registered. Rather than being a one-off approval of individual solutions, it employs a four-phase “Verification and Validation” methodology similar to that used in the aviation industry, looking at a company’s readiness to be a technology provider, the technology and product itself, testing of the technologies involved, and finally validation of the product in service. Delivery of the AI Assurance Framework will be the responsibility of Joseph Morelos, LR’s Maritime AI Applications Leader.

Colourful shapes balancing.
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