One year on from the start of the pandemic and the world is still battling COVID-19. The vaccine offers hope that life can return to normality in the future, but for now, the shipping industry still faces many challenges.

One challenge is remote working. Lockdowns and restrictions forced many businesses to close offices and move their workforce to home working. Shipping companies also sent shore-based teams to work from home where possible, but with varying success.

Those with the right online tools and access to the cloud could already access data and information from any location and work. However, for others, this highlighted huge technology gaps. Companies reliant on paper-based processes and the use of outdated technology realised they could not function and needed to change.

For many this prompted investment in technology and moving their business to the cloud for the first time. Not only to be able to work regardless of location, but also to remove the need for manual updates or installations and the necessity to employ IT staff to take care of the maintenance and servicing of systems and hardware. A recent report from Lloyd’s List and Inmarsat, ‘Digitalisation Uncovered’ looked at insights from shipowners and ship managers in this period of transition.

They found that the primary drivers towards digitalisation were cost reduction and operational efficiencies, followed by regulatory compliance. The findings also pointed to a rapidly increasing need to get data off a vessel in real-time, as opposed to using more manual methods.

Another recent survey from Australian telco Telstra which surveyed more than 120 business leaders across four continents, found that almost two thirds of respondents believed COVID-19 had changed their organisations forever.

It also showed that cloud technology will be a key driver in their businesses in the future. More than 90% said they were accelerating the adoption of cloud services, while 97% of respondents in Europe and North Asia saw the cloud as ‘the only option’.

As KPMG so aptly summed up in its report “Enterprise Reboot”, “Embracing new technologies is no longer just about doing things better, faster, and cheaper. It now has implications on survival and growth in a new business reality.”

With this in mind, the Singapore government has already launched various initiatives and grants to help companies grow and transform across industries, including shipping. At Hanseaticsoft, a LR company, we embrace such initiatives. In fact, our fleet management system, Cloud Fleet Manager, was selected by Singapore as one of the solutions to help shipping companies cope with current challenges, receiving funding of up to 80% of total project costs.

It’s not just about efficiency

There is also the human impact of the pandemic that is boosting technology uptake. Mental health has been put in the spotlight because of COVID-19. It has been widely reported that lockdowns and restrictions have had a negative impact on people’s mental wellbeing.

We’ve seen seafarers stranded at sea for months amidst the escalating crew crisis, with companies struggling to change crews as some governments banned crews from coming ashore amid COVID-19 fears.

The isolation has taken its toll. In July 2020, the Seafarers Happiness Index (SHI) published by the Mission to Seafarers highlighted that the mental health of seafarers was at ‘tipping point’. With no clear end in sight of when the pandemic may be over, the mental health fallout is something shipping companies and wider society will need to address as soon as possible.

Technology can offer a solution. Providing internet access as a way to keep in touch with people can be a great relief for seafarers at sea for months. Being able to send emails or do video calls is something that more shipping companies are recognising is a way to tackle mental health issues.

Not only can crews stay connected to the outside world, they can access mental health support or medical advice using apps, as well as connect with groups and organisations. We expect that providing good internet access will be more of a priority for shipping companies going forward.

Indeed, the Lloyd’s List report showed that COVID-19 prompted a significant increase in the use of video-based connectivity by crew, for social and welfare reasons, and suggesting that crew welfare issues will be a top three driver for digital adoption in the future.

Real-time access to data through the cloud

The ongoing challenge of getting data from ships in real-time has been helped by cloud technology. Data is the next big thing in most industries, including shipping. Access to and interpretation of data to improve processes is vital. Using cloud-based systems for management has facilitated the sharing of information and data with access in one central place no matter where crew and ashore teams are based.

Business critical information such as important maritime instructions and procedures, crew schedules, payroll data and other key communications can now be shared by teams onshore with crews at sea and it can be actioned immediately, ensuring the company can react to any situation.

The journey to digitalisation has sped up because of the pandemic and changed the way shipping companies work forever. In the words of Ronald Spithout, Inmarsat Maritime President “developments in wider society mean there is no going back for the maritime industries’ digital revolution”, taken from his article in the Lloyd’s List report.