Having started my career in the industry in the late 1990s by interviewing the plethora of maritime dot com start-ups at the time and then trying to keep a handle on the so-called digital revolution over the following three decades through various roles, I am always the first to say that keeping pace with digital innovation and related technologies including artificial intelligence, machine learning, data analytics, digital twins, autonomy and blockchain, to name but a few, is a continuous (and at some points uphill) challenge.

Hype and counter-hype inflate the importance and usage of digital technology and in that I include myself (as a marketer of various types of technology over the years) as a guilty party.

However, it is obvious that maritime digital transformation is happening across geographies and sectors at a rapid pace and that’s why we at LR are keen to put this topic under the microscope and look at what is really required to digitally transform a company and more importantly how this is ultimately linked to both profitable and sustainable goals.

An excellent recent report by Thetius and commissioned by Inmarsat at the end of the last year, highlighted that the pandemic has accelerated digitalisation by over three years witnessed not only by an upturn in investment in 2021, but equally importantly, by the number of projects put into reality over the last two years driven by the need to move away from physical or manual processes.

Two close-to-home examples have been the rapid growth of LR’s digital class business and remote surveys and the advent of a new AI register based on the back of real interest from owners and operators in AI assurance.

It’s also worth noting, that although many ship owners and operators are still relative newcomers to the advantages digital transformation can bring the global shipping industry is far from a ‘newbie’ in such developments.

Don’t forget that standardisation in the form of electronic data interchange (EDI) has been widely used for decades, most shipping companies moved from manual to e-procurement systems years ago and vetting and chartering have seen a variety of ‘digital-first’ companies (Rightship, Q88, VesselsValue, ShipServ et al) lead the way over the last twenty years.

And of course, the key reason to success for any product, service or solution still applies i.e it needs to address a specific user pain or help address a new regulatory requirement.
However, when evaluating the broader aspect of digital transformation, it’s vitally important to remember that this is not about the adoption of a single product or service, transforming actually hinges on the ability to fundamentally change operations and adopt a digital-first mindset.

Deloitte – through the interviews of 1,200 senior executives – have coined these changes and the capabilities associated with them as ‘digital pivots’ required for transforming and these can be ‘marinised’ to meet the requirements of the maritime industry.
Pivots highly relevant to maritime include:

  • A flexible, secure and connected infrastructure both onboard and onshore
  • Intelligent and automated workflows including moving from digitising processes to full digitalisation and autonomy
  • Data maturity including the collection, transfer and analysis of data from ship to shore and the avoidance of data silos
  • Requirement of Digital talent – hugely important but often overlooked in a conservative and inwards-looking industry such as shipping
  • Collaboration and the establishment of digital spin-offs, partner ecosystems and start-up accelerators

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 above are absolutely key to digital maturity in shipping and in the following blogs I am keen to shine a light on the capabilities of each pivot to transform any company across the maritime asset value supply chain.