No digitalisation without digital standards

Industry collaboration will be critical to the safe adoption of advanced digital technology, writes James Collett, Managing Director, Sperry Marine, and President of CIRM

There is no doubt that shipping is engaged in the process of digitalisation with growing excitement about its potential to bring new technology into the mix and so increase safety and efficiency.

There is also still a gap between expectation and delivery for many vessel operators. This is in part a function of a fragmented industry operating non-standard vessels subject to split incentives and partly because digital is only recently gaining the board-level attention it requires.

Until recently there has not been enough bandwidth and the order of the day has been old PCs and laptops, homegrown and bespoke software and hardware systems and a patchwork of OS and application updates. This creates a problem firstly for the seafarers at the sharp end but potentially for all of us.

We are already operating in the era of IMO 2021 but we know that an ISM Code amendment is just a starting point for what needs to be an industry wide approach to proactive cyber hygiene and security. As digitalisation increases, so do the risks and this is something we have to manage.

Digitalisation sits alongside decarbonisation as the big-ticket items for shipping and achieving both will need the industry to do some things it has rarely, if ever, achieved before. Collaboration, co-operation and competitive advantage will be the enablers of change. Safety is the glue that holds them together.

The critical piece will be to ensure the delivery of the highest quality, safest and most reliable technology to the maritime environment at a time when companies are pushing forward with remote control vessel projects and ship systems are making leaps forward in terms of functionality and connectivity.

The IMO is already addressing autonomy with its MASS scoping exercise and it is likely that this will lay the groundwork for what it considers acceptable minimum standards for remotely piloted vessels.

As a board member and recently-elected President of CIRM, I know that its work on developing standards for interoperability and supporting regulatory development will be key to safely advancing digitalisation in the maritime industry.

As the principal international association for standards and regulation, CIRM represents the interests of manufacturers, suppliers, system integrators, ship service providers and other related businesses, acting as a consultative body at the International Maritime Organization.

We are in an exciting period when start-ups are more prevalent and relevant than ever in shipping; approaching problems with fresh perspectives and tools driven by new technologies. This is something I encourage wholeheartedly and also that needs a two-way understanding of the regulatory landscape and the industry’s safety and performance tolerances.

For newcomers in shipping seeking to understand the process and where we are on the digital journey, collaboration within bodies like CIRM can provide a portal to expert knowledge gained from taking part in the regulatory process.

Whilst I am passionate about maritime digitalisation, I am nevertheless fully aware of the importance of the role of safety and standards to our industry’s transformation journey. Standards and regulations around novel technologies don’t appear overnight, they evolve based on expertise and experience that can help shape a product, service or application into something that can be safely adopted.

The challenges ahead are going to require the industry to collaborate much more than has been seen until now. I believe collaboration and partnership are key to any successful enterprise, but needs vary across the ecosystem, not least with the ship owners and ship operators that we collectively serve.

Reflecting this diversity and working to support shipping as it transforms to a cleaner, more efficient and digital industry is a big task that requires us all to get onboard.

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About the Author

Picture of James Collett
James Collett

James Collett is Managing Director of Sperry Marine and President of the Comité International Radio-Maritime (CIRM), an organisation dedicated to developing and sharing global standards for marine electronics, digital ship operations, software supporting marine navigation and communication applications, equipment manufacture, installation and service and other matters relating to shipborne electronic equipment and systems.

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