Data Collaboration Demands ‘Systemic Shift’ in Shipping

December 11, 2023

Increased shipboard automation can boost the operational efficiency of shipping. Image: Bureau Veritas
Increased shipboard automation can boost the operational efficiency of shipping. Image: Bureau Veritas

Shipping’s journey of digital transformation is as much about cultural change - from the boardroom to onboard vessels - to adapt to new ways of working with data collaboration at the core as it is about technology adoption, according to a new Bureau Veritas-backed research study.

Digital transformation of the industry “demands a systemic shift in how we work together,” Bureau Veritas Marine & Offshore’s VP Digital Solutions & Transformation, Laurent Hentges, said in the foreword to the report by research firm Thetius, entitled Common Interest.

“This is a collective challenge requiring new approaches, prompting the development of frameworks that encourage and reward collaboration,” he writes.

The study cites a conservative culture and behavioural resistance as among the biggest challenges to digitalization of the industry, underpinned by a protectionist mindset that hinders data collaboration, time-worn manual working practices that lead to inefficiencies, and legacy contractual structures and competition law that limit data-sharing.

This is illustrated by the fact that some 80% of data generated by the industry is not used, 80% of ports still rely on analogue processes in their day-to-day tasks, and 70% of the addressable fleet is owned by companies operating fewer than 15 vessels, according to the study.

  • Changing mindset

The fragmented, market-driven nature of the industry hinders data-sharing across the ecosystem, while cost is also a significant barrier to collaboration as smaller companies do not have the people or resources to make this happen, even though digitalization is widely seen as a major driver for cost reductions, it states.

IMO Secretary General Kitack Lim has earlier stated that a “changing mindset” will be the most fundamental change needed for shipping to meet the dual challenges of digitalisation and decarbonization. “This means a shift to greater transparency, more sharing of data, better analysis of data and collaborative thinking,” he is quoted as saying in the report.

Bureau Veritas Marine & Offshore’s VP Digital Solutions & Transformation, Laurent Hentges. Photo: Bureau Veritas

An analysis by international consultancy PWC, cited in the study, identified culture as “the invisible enabler of change” and said change management required an understanding of the existing culture, what needed to change and translating this into actual behavioural change at the sharp end of operations through actions that connect culture with strategy.“Based on our experience, culture is a key means of creating sustainable transformation, along with foundational elements like broad-based communication, employee engagement, and leadership alignment. The challenge is linking culture work to practical, business-relevant changes that directly affect the behaviours of frontline employees,” according to PWC.

  • Shipboard Automation

Increasing automation of shipboard systems coupled with a new breed of tech-savvy seafarers is apparently leading to a positive cultural shift in favour of more effective data usage, at least onboard vessels, an OrbitMI-hosted panel heard at the recent Shipping Insight event in Stamford, US.

On the documentation side, automated reporting of noon, arrival and departure reports can greatly reduce the workload for captains and crews, thus freeing up their time for more important tasks, and minimize the risk of human error from manual inputting of data. US-based Ro-Ro operator ARC’s SVP head of operations Fred Finger told the panel one of today’s biggest challenges was mitigating the increased regulatory and administrative workload on ships, as well as the burden of multiple emails back and forth with various stakeholders.

“For us it is critical that automation continues to grow. There are many reasons to have a crew onboard a ship. Filling out paper is not one of them,” he told the panel.

He said the latest generation of captains are technically literate as they are already familiar with digital technology from the wider world and therefore more adept at handling advanced systems such as weather routing. “That cultural change is really helpful in moving towards digitalising as much as possible to optimise safety, the quality of life onboard and operations,” he said.

  • Driving Cultural Shift

New York-based maritime software firm OrbitMI is helping to drive this cultural shift towards data-sharing through integration of multiple APIs from different vendors into its vessel performance management system. Its system is designed to make the seafarer’s job easier by automating onerous reporting tasks and email administration, while generating “intelligent connected workflows” that deliver actionable insights from data to improve voyage decision-making.
Indeed, the Thetius study highlights the importance of designing systems in alignment with the needs of the end user to deliver user-friendly solutions with a high probability of success.

French class society Bureau Veritas recently formed a strategic collaboration with OrbitMI to accelerate development of new and existing data-driven solutions for maritime as the French class society seeks to create a platform for collaborative data-sharing for multiple stakeholders to drive systemic change across the industry.

  • Structural Overhaul 'Will come at a Cost'

“Collaboration requires there to be a common interest and the willingness to work together to extract some mutual value,” the study states.

But it adds: “Calls for the sector to drop the curtain and share large amounts of potentially valuable data will not be taken seriously without demonstrating clear benefits and addressing fair competition, misuse of data, and intellectual property concerns.”
The report says there are many challenges to realizing such collaboration from practical, political, legal and technological standpoints, including competition law and anti-trust concerns.

“Cultural and behavioural legacy will also continue to apply a drag factor. Ultimately, all change comes at a cost: monetarily, culturally and psychologically,” it concludes.

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