Transforming Maritime Industry into Digital Enterprises

01 Aug 2017

In 2016, the UN Chief acknowledged that ‘maritime transport is the backbone of global trade and global economy.' It is a well-known but overlooked fact that about 90% of the world trade is carried out by the international shipping industry. The import and export of goods on the scale necessary for modern world would not be possible without shipping, making it a vital piece of a puzzle in this age of globalization.

Despite its growth and global presence, the shipping industry has been operating in a traditional and century-old model. In recent years, while shipping has proven to be a growth industry witnessing the increase in gross capacity of the world fleet by millions of tonnages each year, the ship owner’s profits have declined dramatically. Other factors have exacerbated the worsening profit scenario of the shipping industry since the worldwide economic downturn set in late 2008. Oversupply of ships, fierce competition, ISM and ever increasing environmental and SOLAS regulations means higher margin pressure for the owners. At the same time, ever reducing staff on board results in increased risk of accidents and catastrophic events.

This rapidly changing scenario in maritime industry necessitates higher operational efficiency requirements, greater safety and lower tolerance for human-made errors. Shipping, as we see it, is poised to embrace another step change in its trajectory through the adoption of some of the latest technologies in progression.

SMART - the need of the hour

Smartphones are commonplace today, and almost everyone carries one. For the longest time, phones were simply a telephone which was tethered to a desk and used for long distance conversations. Then came the wireless phones, which one could take it around anywhere. In the late 1990s, things began to change when a few additional functionalities were included, and companies (i.e. Ericsson’s GS 88 concept) introduced the term “Smart.”

The first Smartphones focussed on enterprise users. In 2007, the telecommunication industry took a dramatic turn. Apple introduced the iPhone, a smartphone combined with powerful multimedia functions, email and Web browsing features. These came with a large colour display, finger-friendly screens, and a great user experience. This Smartphone primer entirely altered the approach of how things function.

SMART - A concept that brings disparate functions (computing, email, camera, multimedia, sensors, etc.) in one simple interface to help the user do heretofore incredible things on the phone. E.g.: browse the internet, deposit cheque, make payments, hail a taxi, provide a location, etc. The maritime world is on the cusp of something very similar. With the advent of IOT, Big data, Machine Learning, AI, Drones, 3D printing, Virtual reality and so on, the time has come to add SMART in its truest sense to the world of shipping. The ability to do heretofore unimaginable things in shipping, all from a simple interface right from the comfort of house/office.

SMARTShip Definition

Connect and control all machinery and data points on board. Plug the ship to activate advanced real-time M2M communication, remote monitoring, diagnosis & guidance from shore-based Command Control Center (C3). Use collected data as a strategic weapon to drive business value using Big Data analytics.

There have been a few advancements in the maritime industry; however, it is limited to collecting a small amount of data and taking it to shore for analytics related to point-specific solutions (i.e. fuel consumption). Such advancements are minimalistic incremental innovations which barely touch the surface of the ocean. The tech industry possesses capabilities which can now transform the maritime sector. Smarter Ship, Smarter operations, Smarter Marine Supply Chain, is the need of the hour.

Technology as an enabler

Today, frontline technologies are available to solve real world issues for every stakeholder in logistics value chain - Ship Owners, Ship Management Company, Ship Operators, Port Management, Surveyors, Register companies, Ship insurers, Shipbuilders and others. These vanguards can be used to bring a revolution in the maritime industry

Internet of Things

The Internet of things (IoT) is the inter-networking of physical objects/ devices or “things” (also referred to as "connected devices" and "smart devices"), buildings, power systems, and other items—embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity that enable these objects to collect and exchange data. “Smart City” initiatives – and connected cars, smart houses, wearables – they all broadly fall under the IoT umbrella.

The essence of IoT resides in the source of the data, which are the sensors. These smart devices generate data about activities, events, and influencing factors that provide visibility into performance and support decision processes across a variety of industries and consumer channels.

Big Data

Big data is a term that describes the large volume of distinct data – both structured and unstructured. These data sets can be analysed computationally to reveal patterns, trends, and associations enabling enhanced decision making, insight discovery and process optimization.

Big data analytics is the process of examining large and varied data sets, i.e., big data -- to uncover hidden patterns, unknown correlations, market trends, customer preferences and other useful information that can help organizations make better-informed business decisions to drive economic value.

In addition to IoT and Big Data analytics, there are myriad possibilities in technology (Machine Learning, AI, Drones, 3D printing, Virtual reality) that are useful for a point-specific solution. For E.g., AI and Machine Learning are aiding in building predictive and prescriptive analytics solutions; Drones for hull inspection, etc.

Concluding Remarks

Data bandwidth is a big step for the digital shipping industry. Connectivity is critical to the success of an automated, autonomous or unmanned ship. But currently, the bandwidth required for the shipping industry is quite far removed from the level of capability available. The pricing acts as a deterrent for the shipping industry though there is an increase in capacity and growing competition in the satellite communications. Therefore, companies like Alpha Ori Technology are using distributed computing - both Cloud and Edge computing to overcome this connectivity challenges.

The moment is right to introduce various cutting edge technologies to one of the oldest and indispensable enterprises of our times; to transform not only ships but the entire marine ecosystem (ports, classification societies, marine insurance, chartering and brokering, etc.). Maritime transport is an integral, if sometimes less publicly visible, part of the global economy. It’s time that we bring complete transparency, accountability and the highest level of safety at ship owners’ fingertips. Let us work forward to deliver the operational efficiency and higher profitability that ship owners and shipping industry justly deserve.


Sam is the Chief Product Officer at Alpha Ori Technologies (AOT). Alpha Ori is a B2B Technology company operating in IoT (Internet of Things), Ship ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) and Big Data Science. For any comments reach out to sam@alphaori.sg

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