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Digital game changer for maritime industry

Five industry experts share their views on what maritime sector players need to do to navigate the new digital seascape

KD Adamson says: "The impact of the blockchain could be substantial across trade and logistics, as will advances in artificial intelligence."

Mohit Batra says: "Advanced software and simulation capabilities are resulting in more complex systems being controlled by software."

Morten Lind-Olsen says: "A challenge in the short-term is the mental leap from protecting your data to sharing widely in the digital society."

Kenneth Lim says: "Vessels are now outfitted with more intelligent systems that monitor various operating parameters."

Michael Montoya says: "As the digital footprint expands, we will see the threat landscape become more complex in the maritime industry."


  • KD Adamson, Futurist & Chief Executive Officer, Futurenautics Group, UK
  • Mohit Batra, Regional Director - Commercial Shipping, Eniram Singapore
  • Morten Lind-Olsen, Chief Executive Officer, Dualog, Norway
  • Kenneth Lim, Chief Technology Officer, Maritime Port Authority, Singapore
  • Michael Montoya, Chief Cybersecurity Officer, Enterprise Cybersecurity Group, Singapore, Microsoft

Moderator: Francis Kan, The Business Times

The Business Times: What are the key technologies impacting the maritime industry today?

KD Adamson: Technologies made up of social, mobile, analytics and cloud together with the Internet of Things (IoT) are supporting something called the Intelligent Digital Mesh (IDM).

This is an exponentially growing collection of endpoints which could be devices, people or assets to which you have a real-time digital connection and which can therefore transmit and receive data. Access to the IDM is of course dependent upon enterprise-grade connectivity which has traditionally been expensive ship-to-shore, but those costs are now falling. As a result, shipping is in a position to begin leveraging the IDM. In terms of emerging technologies, the impact of the blockchain - a digital distributed ledger - could be substantial across trade and logistics, as will advances in artificial intelligence.

Mohit Batra: The shipping industry has not been an early adopter of modern technology, but we are now witnessing fast-paced adoption. Fuel saving and costs are the key areas of focus when owners invest in new technologies. Remote access, performance monitoring, data analytics, forecasting and condition-based maintenance are significantly improving operations and ship management. A strong engagement and interest from top management to move ahead with the selected technology and an appropriate timeline to implement the solution will also be key to success in this digital era.

Morten Lind-Olsen: Due to bandwidth limitations in satellite technology, there has traditionally not been too much communication and electronic interactions between sailing ships and the terrestrial world. This is now changing rapidly as new technologies allow more bandwidth at sea over satellites. We see a trend where machine data and Internet of Things technologies are being used to integrate ships into shore networks.

Kenneth Lim: The technologies impacting the maritime sector are no different from what we see impacting all other sectors in the economy. These include greater use of automation, IoT, robotics, drones and of course, intelligent systems and digitalisation. Ports from Shanghai, Rotterdam, Hamburg to Singapore are in various stages of automation and digitalisation. Vessels too are now outfitted with more intelligent systems that monitor various operating parameters and can remotely communicate with shore-based vessel monitoring centres.

Michael Montoya: As the digital footprint expands, we will see the threat landscape become more complex with the maritime industry taking more attention from threat actors. All threat actors will see this as an opportunity as maritime has critical infrastructure dependencies, making it attractive for cyberterrorists and nation-states.

BT: How should industry players deal with the disruption brought about by these technologies?

KD Adamson: The trick is to be part of the disruption, and in order to do that, it's key to recognise that this isn't a technology wave but a business transformation wave. Each company needs to have a digital vision built around the value they'll bring in the new digital economy. For many, that digital vision will be very different from the status quo, which is what makes digital transformation so hard. Leaders have to continue meeting their quarterly targets while also preparing the organisation for a future which is going to be almost unrecognisable.

Mohit Batra: Governments and companies are encouraging constructive collaboration among the industry players and are already taking steps to develop capabilities to succeed in digitalisation - for example, MPA's enhanced Maritime Cluster Fund which provides co-funding for companies that want to utilise technology to optimise their business processes.

Technology should not be used as an excuse to reduce manpower but to complement and improve efficiency.

Morten Lind-Olsen: Technological developments are rapidly opening up new opportunities for the industry. Dualog's business purpose is to bring ship and shore closer, and we experience that new technologies are introduced because of more available bandwidth, and this enables the shipping companies to integrate their ships to the shore environment at a much larger extent.

BT: How can the companies use new digital tools to help them improve their performance?

KD Adamson: The scope for improved efficiencies and productivity in shipping and maritime is enormous. Starting with the biggest physical assets, having vessels connected in real-time enables monitoring, analysis and communication of information which help safety and reliability. There are already many on the maritime supply side creating platforms to enable ship operators to gain unprecedented visibility into their operations and to turn that insight into actionable intelligence. But the opportunity is far wider than that. Data and information can help to improve human-machine interfaces, build and motivate teams, and offer more flexible and more interesting roles that will attract the brightest and best into the industry.

Mohit Batra: With the availability of high-quality data and analysis in almost real-time, the industry is moving in a degree of intelligence from information to insight to be able to adopt a more predictive approach. Advanced software and simulation capabilities are resulting in more complex systems being controlled by software. Eniram has launched the next version of its digital solution Skylight, where apps designed for smart phones, tablets and watches are included for automatic notification for any variances to speed or ETA (estimated time of arrival).

Morten Lind-Olsen: As bandwidth increases, there has been an increasing focus on utilising onboard data for better performance. This raises a couple of challenges. One is the actual collection of data. So far, there are no clear established standards for collection of data from equipment and software onboard or bringing it ashore in a standardised format. The next big challenge for the industry is to make it easier to collect data onboard and to create vendor independent standards in order to stimulate a sharing community on the shore side. The industry value of the data increases enormously if they are shared and used for big data analysis and benchmarking across companies and authorities. Another challenge in the short-term is the mental leap from protecting your data to sharing widely in the digital society.

Kenneth Lim: Last year, Singapore was among the first Flag Administrations in Asia to issue E-certificates directly to Singapore-registered ships. The use of E-certs will reduce the need for hard copies as well as save time and costs. This allows for the instantaneous and simultaneous transmissions of documents as well as reduces the risk of fraud.

We also concluded last year the MPA-IBM pilot trial of three modules under the (SAFER) Sense-making and Analytics For Maritime Event Response project. The project leverages analytics-based technologies to improve maritime port operations such as the automatic detection of vessel movements, infringements and pilot boarding time.

BT: What more can be done to encourage adoption of new technology by industry players?

Kenneth Lim: Earlier this year, MPA launched the Industry Transformation Map for Sea Transport. One key focus area is to catalyse productivity and innovation in the Singapore maritime sector. The MPA Living Lab, together with PSA and Jurong Port (JP) Living Labs, will offer technology developers and industry partners a rich maritime data platform and a real operating environment at the port to co-develop and pilot innovative solutions. Under the PSA Living Lab, PSA is currently working with partners to test-bed automated operations using Automated Guided Vehicles while JP is test-bedding the use of side loaders to enhance productivity at the JP Living Lab.

MPA will also be working with stakeholders to promote greater sharing of data and information within the industry. MPA will partner the Singapore Maritime Institute to set up three maritime research Centres of Excellence within local Institutes of Higher Learning to deepen Singapore's maritime R&D capabilities.

KD Adamson: I think it starts earlier than technology adoption. It starts with a mindset change that will allow companies to begin exploring the capabilities of those technologies in the context of their particular industry. In a market with very tight margins, that's often an expensive exercise so collaboration with other companies inside the sector and - crucially - outside the sector can really accelerate change. The reality is that digital products and services are different. Customers expect seamless interoperability and support which means companies have to work together and collaborate, creating platforms and ecosystems around them.

Mohit Batra: Technology has to be adopted with a clear vision of the end objective and it fails when there is a lack of belief from the top management. Issues such as cybersecurity and data leaks also need to be considered and addressed before the implementation project commences.

Digitalisation leads to commoditisation and to disruption. The retailers of the world are now starting to disrupt the shipping space as they strive to take greater control over logistics. Amazon and Walmart are looking to control their own shipping and more recently, we have seen Alibaba sign up with Maersk, CMA CGM and Zim Lines. The discussions about unmanned ships, smart operations and improved efficiency are really only code for the end of the current maritime model. The changing model of shipping cargo and logistics will alter the shipowning and operating model to create smart maritime practices that need scale in order to be more efficient.

Morten Lind-Olsen: It is already a big transformation ongoing. At the end of the day, the maritime industry is facing the same challenges as other industries. I guess we need to encourage leaders and owners to realise that and spend time implementing the right solutions in the right order. My personal view is that the process of adapting digitisation will be the number one contributor to a successful future of shipping. Dualog has developed a digital platform at sea. By sharing our platform with all the players in the industry, we intend to lead the way towards higher adoption of new technologies.

Michael Montoya: More examples of industry and government partnerships will have a big impact. Singapore has always been a leader in these partnerships and now their investments in the maritime industry will serve as an example that I hope others will follow. Also, industry players should partner more closely with existing technology leaders and explore innovative joint solutions.