Steering into Digital Waters
Like other industries, shipping will need to embrace technology. Firms that don’t adopt new technology risk becoming obsolete.
Mr Andreas Sohmen-Pao, Chairman of BW Group and the Singapore Maritime Foundation admits that this is true, but it risks becoming shallow truism.
“We must understand where new technology can best be applied,” Mr Sohmen-Pao noted. “It is important when talking about digitalisation to find a starting point. One issue to tackle or a specific focus that can be addressed. You can’t do everything at the same time without ending up spreading yourself too thin. With one area in mind, you must then decide what can be done in-house and what must be outsourced.”
Mr Sohmen-Pao pointed to how BW Group has invested in Alpha Ori, a maritime digital solutions provider, to create a team that combines ship management experience and good technology skills. BW Group had its in-house team focus on upgrading legacy IT systems while empowering Alpha Ori to do all blue-sky thinking.
“We find that almost everything will end up needing a partner or partners. In most cases, we just do not have the ability or capacity to do things entirely in-house,” Mr Sohmen-Pao said. “And even if we do, there are other issues that can arise when trying to do everything on our own.”
This is just one of the many challenges firms in the maritime industry will need to address before adopting digitalisation.
“Another challenge is deciding if you should use centralised control or trust front line,” Mr SohmenPao explains. “We like the idea of centralised control, but we also need input from the front line teams. We need to strike the right balance between these two.”
With more monitoring and tasks now able to be done centrally, this creates another problem in the form of skill erosion. In some cases digitalisation will make certain skills obsolete, but that doesn’t mean they are unnecessary.
“We must avoid erosion of skills so if a computer or GPS fails, people are trained to respond,” Mr SohmenPao states. “If no one knows how to guide a ship without GPS, they will be in trouble if the system fails.”
Even with these challenges, Mr Sohmen-Pao believes this is one of the most exciting times in the history of the maritime industry.
“The most exciting development in the maritime industry is self-correcting ships or or autonomous ships. These are going to disrupt the industry. There is some concern about this. It is scary to think about the loss of jobs that will come with this, but it will also benefit the industry a great deal,” Mr SohmenPao concludes.