Technology, people, processes and collaboration – these are some of the core pillars underpinning the concept of ‘Maritime Informatics’, a term coined to describe the digitalisation movement currently underway in the shipping industry and the title of a new book featuring more than 80 contributing authors from 20 countries working across the maritime and logistics sectors.
In the spirit of cross-industry information sharing over digital platforms, Smart Maritime Network logged in from our HQ in Ireland to connect with Switzerland, Germany and Sweden via video conference to speak to some of the book’s contributors about the future evolution of technology in shipping, each of whom is an enthusiastic proponent of maritime digitalisation.
Our group featured representatives from a shipping line, a port and from academia – Andre Simha, Global Chief Digital & Information Officer at MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company; Dr Phanthian Zuesongdham, Director Port Process Solutions at the Hamburg Port Authority (HPA); and Dr Mikael Lind, Senior Strategic Research Advisor Digital Systems at RISE (Research Institutes of Sweden), who is also lead editor of the new book.
“When I think of Maritime Informatics, there are some keywords that are important. First of all, it is concerned with the practice of maritime operations, or maritime transport operations, or maritime activity, depending on your view,” Dr Lind explains.
“We’re taking a socio-technical approach to how we need to conceive the maritime industry, what social effects or business values are coming out of all the digitalisation efforts, while also putting a focus on data analytics, digital twinning, machine learning and all of the technical capabilities that are necessary to move forward.”
“So for me, Maritime Informatics is first of all a way to regard maritime transport as a self-organising ecosystem involving many global players and where everything is very much built upon episodic tight coupling.”
For this ecosystem to evolve in an efficient, sustainable, and value-maximising manner stakeholders will need to embrace the concepts of data sharing and digital collaboration, Dr Lind says, to power the analytics necessary to optimise processes while also meeting the increasing demands of cargo owners for accurate real time data about the status of their shipments.
Dr Zuesongdham from HPA has a similar viewpoint when it comes to the need to combine both human and technological capabilities in advancing Maritime Informatics, describing the concept as an “applied science” where real world experiences will differ from the neat results produced by theoretical models.
“If we look at informatics in the context of production or operational excellence, like other industries have been doing for some time, the maritime industry is just starting that journey in many ways,” she said.
“Maritime Informatics is not just a data issue or an IT issue. When we are talking about how this can be applied, we have to concern ourselves with three elements. The first thing is to look at processes and their relevant data. The second is the technology that we are using or adopting, and the third is the people who are using that technology.”
“These three are the kind of ‘miracle triangle’ of how you can run a successful digital transformation. You have to keep these three in balance, you can’t just concern yourself with the technology alone or the process alone. You have to look at these three aspects from an integrated perspective.”
Andre Simha from MSC concurs on the importance of balancing human input with technology and processes in the digital maritime ecosystem, also pointing to the need to be mindful of end-customer demands and requirements when designing any type of data-driven process.
“It’s easy to get excited about new technology. But if people think it’s only about tech then nothing’s going to happen. If you look at it from the carrier perspective, we’re not going to digitise the shipping industry in one day, we have to do it step by step,” he said.
“The fact is, digital transformation is less about digital, and more about the transformation. It means looking at our processes, but also looking at what our customers are doing and expect from us. We see a growing demand from shippers for digital solutions and we are continually investing in and developing new technologies to enhance our business and adapt to our clients’ needs.”
“At MSC, we regard technology as a tool to help us achieve better ways of working, and better customer and user experiences end to end. Once we all understand what’s at stake and what we need to do to get there, then we can do great things. No less importantly, we need to do it together with the other key actors.”
The sharing of operational data amongst actors in the supply chain is a fundamental component of the Maritime Informatics concept, where access to real time information about changing circumstances earlier in the chain allows the timing of later events to be proactively modified in response, improving efficiency for everyone involved.
The challenges involved in building these data sharing networks today are mostly political and cultural. The technical capabilities exist, and have done for some time, but the system only works once there is buy-in from a significant number of players that recognise the mutual benefit if they ‘give a little, to take a little’. >>>continued on page 2