Commercial shipping is responsible for transporting 90% of world trade, and as such, the maritime industry is one of the most crucial pieces of the global supply chain. Globalisation hinges on it. Without shipping, the global economy as we know it wouldn’t function.
With a merchant fleet of over 50,000 ships, worth around $1.8 trillion, transporting an estimated 11 billion tons of goods each year, maritime transportation involves multiple companies, which must all be aligned if the safety, efficiency, and resiliency of maritime operations are to be optimised.
Technology has a key role to play
Increasingly, technology is playing an important role in maritime operations. Although the maritime industry is still behind in its digital journey – you only have to consider the progress of digitalisation in other transport sectors, like aviation, to see they have moved more quickly in embracing smart technologies such as AI, big data and machine learning – there is more and more evidence that maritime professionals are waking up to the fact that smart technology can tackle some of the industry’s biggest challenges and inefficiencies.
Whether that’s through enhancing situational awareness, optimisation tools or improving ship-to-shore communications, technology is having a profound impact on the safety, efficiency, and sustainability of the industry.
In fact, in our recent global survey, which explores attitudes to digital transformation among maritime professionals, 78% of respondents agree that change and technological innovation is a good thing, with 7 out of 10 having a very clear understanding of why digitalisation is needed and its benefits.
So, what barriers are holding the industry back from advancing on its digital transformation journey?
The barriers halting progress
A key factor at play here is that whilst great strides have been made in the industry’s digital maturity, many of the current digital solutions for maritime have been developed in silos. This has resulted in patchy and fragmented ecosystems on ship and onshore, largely because the solutions available do not communicate with each other, often requiring a significant amount of manual, often duplicated, interventions to properly leverage.
To add to this, the industry currently faces a lack of common data standards, which has compounded the challenge of working within such an enormous and highly complicated logistics chain. The issue here is that it can often be challenging to create the holistic, interoperable solutions that make it possible for the industry to untangle the complex data web and generate tangible, actionable insights.
As a result of these challenges, it has meant that the prospect of digitalising every link in the maritime supply chain is a daunting task for many. In our own research, for example, we found this to be the general feeling: the majority (56%) believe that the time and cost implications involved with digital transformation projects are too high, with over two-thirds (69%) agreeing that the ability to digitise existing infrastructure and retrofit vessels is challenging.
Collaboration will be crucial
It’s clear that a consensus on the necessity and advantages of technology exists, but there is still concern about what the route to digitalisation may hold.
Maritime organisations are all in the same boat, facing a wide range of challenges that can be met through the right technologies and collaborative efforts. But real progress will only happen when we collectively abandon the idea of digital transformation as all or nothing.
That’s because each organisation within maritime is at a different stage of its own digital transformation journey. There is still much work to be done to bridge the gap and break the silos between digital systems, which means we must appreciate it as an iterative and stepwise process.
But this will only be possible if we share and learn from each other’s experiences. After all, as outlined in our research in which 88% point to collaboration between industry players as essential for making digital transformation a reality, digitalisation won’t be achieved by one player alone. The industry needs to come together to build an ecosystem where digital technologies on board a ship talk to those in offices on shore.
Once the industry starts to connect the dots, it can lay the groundwork for technologies that can have an even more profound impact on efficiency, sustainability and safety in the future, such as better situational awareness, highly automated ships, and more advanced AI and machine learning.