Laggard to leapfrog: turning shipping data from information into action

The maritime industry is good at collecting data but has not yet fully realised the potential value it promises.

Data capture and analytics technologies are developing at a speed that is superseding traditional ways of working. Whether for plant operations, server and network status, predictive maintenance, machinery monitoring, process efficiency or other critical systems, managers in many industries expect to be kept fully apprised and alerted before things go wrong.

Shipping is striving to do the same; at a time when digitalisation is increasingly important for operational safety and efficiency, vessel operators need to understand both risks and opportunities.

Globally, this is the direction in which business is heading; pushing insights that trigger actions and decisions that can’t wait on an email – let alone the noon report – but shipping has a problem. We have been talking about big and small data for over a decade and collected terabytes of information from ships but done little to nothing with it.

Certainly, an increasing amount of shipboard data is being collected and relayed to shore, but many operators are still struggling to extract value that can drive data insights back into the business, generate cost savings and create value.

For a vessel operator, their vision cannot be limited by only looking at data and not what lies beyond that; it is necessary to run the analytics and make the decisions that the data suggests. That’s the route the industry is headed, and there is real value in turning data into action.

Maritime has an opportunity to utilise learning from other industries that have solved these problems and there is plenty we can leverage. Shipping needs to jump over the learning curve and understand that data should mean action, not just information.

Doing so will help to put decision-ready data into the hands of owners, crew, ship managers, port personnel – heavy on recommendations, light on graphics – together with proactive alerting on system status, machinery health and maintenance.

To make this work means having an operational, on-the-ship perspective as well as bringing data together to present a fleetwide view. What will help this process is when data collection on board ships becomes more automated and standardised, with analytics on speed, route, fuel consumption and emissions available as decision points to a superintendent.

The use of data standards will make integration and dissemination easier and faster. Standardisation and automation will be key to embracing the digital opportunity – it’s a model where everything that can be connected is connected. This will allow vessel operators to benefit from enhanced analytics on their data and support outputs via third party integrations using open APIs to feed into corporate systems.

When we look further down the track, the megatrends point towards an increase in remote operations and maintenance. New satellite constellations being launched right now will dramatically lower the latency of data transfer and increase throughput available to ships at sea.

When these services start to become available, it won’t just be the number of servers onboard ship that could be dramatically reduced. Even on a ship with some crew present, further advances in data capture mean voyage decisions can be made with support from shore in real time. Again, this is something already happening on a day-to-day basis in other industries, and, despite historical resistance, will likely make its way into shipping in the next decade and transform vessel operations.

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About the Authors

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Evan Gooch is President of ABS Nautical Systems, a vessel management software business within the ABS Group, an independent subsidiary of the classification society American Bureau of Shipping (ABS)

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