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Never has the need for digital data sharing and processing at scale been more apparent than now. The growth of digitally connected devices and the ever-growing complexity of digital systems provide increasing opportunities for data analytics, new digital innovations to support enhanced smartness in transport operations, and virtual near/real-time learning systems, including digital twinning, to empower better decision-making.
To harvest all these opportunities, this new emerging ‘data-driven’ practice requires the global approach to robust, secure and scalable connectivity, data storage, and data processing that is offered by contemporary cloud computing providers.
In order for actors within maritime, as well as within the wider global transport sector, to utilise the capabilities of these collaborative technologies these providers need to support global interoperability by adopting agreed standardised communication frameworks.
Standardisation efforts are also important to allow for flexibility in the choice of provider, to allow for connectivity between the local data sharing environment and global networks, as well as to enable a seamless change management process from traditional, on-premise IT systems to cloud-based technologies.
A data-driven transformation
The maritime industry can already leverage the massive amounts of data that it has accumulated to transform business processes, but new tools are needed to help store, process, and analyse all that data – reliably, cost effectively, and at scale. Cloud computing and data analytics, part of the emerging subject of maritime informatics, enables this data-driven transformation; it has never been easier to collect, store, analyse, enrich (using location intelligence), and share data than it is today in the cloud.
IoT solutions, such as smart containers and digital twins, are a data source enabling stakeholders to have better visibility, to collaborate and coordinate while identifying bottlenecks. In this article we explore the opportunities that cloud computing and data analytics offer the community of maritime transport actors, as part of the global transport chain, to provide beneficial supply chain visibility for all involved.
The maritime sector is predominantly self-organising, with multiple actors that act as individual entities but also need to collaborate in order to coordinate their activities. Regardless of which role the entity occupies in the self-organising ecosystem of maritime transport, there is a need to be informed on what is happening outside the scope of the operations that entity can control.
As the maritime sector does not have an overall body for operational coordination and synchronisation, it needs to rely on horizontal data sharing between the actors, both on a voluntary basis and to meet reporting requirements. This also requires agreements on open standards for messaging and interfacing.
Within the wider transport world, we see a similar situation in air transport, which has already introduced digital integration due to its short journey times. However, its IT infrastructure is fragmented and many of its stakeholders are locked into legacy systems and technologies.
This legacy fragmentation slows down the innovation needed to support multimodal transport services in a fast-changing world, one that is impacted by e-commerce, COVID-19 and the emerging requirements of digital natives.
Initiatives like IATA’s ONE Record standard for data sharing are one example of how opportunities can be created cloud based and collaborative development, opening a market for new innovations. This parallels what is happening in the maritime sector.
The term ‘cloud computing’ refers to the on-demand delivery of IT resources via the Internet, usually with pay-as-you-go pricing. Industrial data platforms with data coming from different sources can be combined to improve existing processes and establish novel cognitive and AI-based applications, such as those being explored in the European funded FEDeRATED and Dataports projects.
Instead of buying, owning, and maintaining their own data centres and servers, organisations can acquire technology such as computing power, storage, databases, and other services on an as-needed basis. These platforms are conceived to be scalable, offering a modular service catalogue that can be extended with other services in the future.
With cloud computing, the providers manage and maintain the technology infrastructure in a secure environment and businesses access these resources via the Internet to develop and run the applications that best suit them and their business. Capacity can grow or shrink instantly, and businesses only pay for what they use.
Notably, following the global trend towards open (as opposed to proprietary or in-house) data standards, cloud-based technologies are based predominantly on open standards and protocols, such that vendor lock-in and the need for users to use proprietary software and hardware solutions are avoided. The use of open standards also means that data from multiple sources can be shared, analysed, and reconstituted with relative ease, regardless of its origin.
Cloud computing can deliver value to maritime companies and organisations in three phases. While not necessarily sequential, these three distinct steps together deliver, within companies and across networks of trading partners, systemic improvement in key business metrics like OPEX and asset utilisation.
Firstly, it reduces IT costs. Several asset-intensive companies have moved all their IT workload to the cloud and achieved savings in the region of 50%.
Secondly, a cloud architecture comprising of a data ingestion layer, a data lake and a client layer can enable the cheap, reliable and efficient collection, storage and analysis of data at scale. This allows maritime companies to break data siloes and create a single repository for their data from multiple sources while maintaining ecosystem connectivity.
Finally, advanced technologies can be delivered on top of the ingestion and storage layers: raw data can be turned into actionable knowledge using data analytics functions such as cross-querying and business intelligence, disseminating insights across the organisation as well as the ecosystem that the organisation is part of.
Machine learning-based predictive and prescriptive analytics can enable just-in-time and as-required maintenance for vessels and port equipment rather than time-based scheduling, reducing downtime and failure rates.
Those analyses bring visibility to one of the biggest challenges within the industry, dealing with the current lack of visibility of shipments, which causes a poor predictability of both ETAs and ETDs. Customers expect real-time visibility in intermodal supply chains (especially for high value and time critical goods).
When managing activities across the supply-chain, location is relevant in almost all cases. Starting from Planning, location can help to optimise dynamic re-planning based on real-time data and monitoring of fleet/shipments, to identify disruptions and proactively respond. Last Mile delivery can be optimised with flexible, customer-specific constraints like guaranteed delivery time, cost optimisation etc. Post-trip analysis and detailed driver and job analysis can improve future business.
Therefore, with the help of cloud computing and location intelligence, key metrics such as port terminal throughput or vessels’ ETD can be predicted to optimise workforce and asset utilisation. Logistics twins of global networks or complex facilities can be built, simulations run and optimal configurations prescribed to decision makers.
The opportunity created by cloud-based technologies fits with the need for virtual integration of logistics and transport digital platforms, through Linked Data where data from third parties within the logistics chain is integrated via web URLs and APIs. This provides a high degree of additional data context and transparency, and facilitates cooperation in increasingly complex logistics networks.
As it becomes more common that physical goods being moved across the globe are equipped with IoT, there will be opportunities to provide real-time tracking and status information services associated with the goods being handled. In this setting, the ability of cloud technologies to support the delivery of such services spanning several regions is important.
Opportunities in maritime
Historically, companies and public entities in the maritime transportation domain have been hesitant to invest extensively in digital technologies. Hence, many are unprepared to embrace transformative technologies such as cloud computing and data analytics, due to company culture, resources, past experience, or skills.
This might slow down the process of migrating from on-premise data processing and analysis to the cloud, but adopting a phased approach to migration is one way to move forward. Migrating only those parts of the existing applications and IT infrastructure that are currently ‘cloud-ready’ is an acceptable strategy, along with a longer-term aim of replacing old legacy systems that are not cloud-compatible.
Data and systems security is another major concern, which cloud computing addresses more effectively than in-house, on premise workloads. Large cloud providers have unmatched economies of scale, which translates into more resources and know-how applied to cybersecurity, both at the infrastructure and software level.
Nowadays, institution likes financial regulators, banks, the military and government agencies are trusting the cloud with highly sensitive data, given cloud’s compliance with the strictest data-security standards and high level of infrastructural redundancy. Thanks to the cloud, maritime companies can take advantage of the same level of security for their businesses-critical workloads and data, while avoiding large investments into hardened facilities and hardware, physical and digital surveillance, firewalls, penetration testing and so on.
The global, self-organising ecosystem of maritime transport requires integration among involved autonomous actors co-producing value for their clients. This means that the complex ecosystem of maritime transport must embrace digital collaboration and data sharing, which could be empowered by cloud technologies to achieve efficiency, transparency, coordination and meet community requirements for sustainability.
Informatics and data analytics show that the future for business, including in the maritime sector, is all about collaboration and data sharing. What we are now experiencing, with the transformation of the maritime sector into a digital society, is that the substantial investments made into digitalisation are already transforming the ecosystem of maritime transport.
Cloud computing should be among the initiatives explored as a potential tool to enhance cooperation, improve decision-making, and boost innovation within the maritime industry.
Key to the development of integrated performance in the global ecosystem of maritime transport is the establishment of an open and globally interoperable collaborative network, with agreed standards for communication, security and service provision being adopted by key stakeholders, including different cloud solution providers.
We therefore welcome and encourage all actors in the ecosystem of maritime transport to join the discourse on the technical foundations necessary for collaborative technologies to remain relevant in the new era of digitalisation.
Editor’s note: This article is an abridged version of the original paper by the authors, which includes a full list of references. The full paper can be downloaded here.