Faster satellite communications and connected ships are transforming ecdis into navigational decision support systems
The notion of the connected ship invites multiple definitions, driving strategies in different directions across the marine communications and e-navigation markets. What draws ecdis firmly into the debate is its link to the fast emerging discipline of e-navigation, which is transforming traditional navigational information systems into navigational decision support systems. Intelligent data becomes the platform which empowers shore office personnel and those responsible for vessel traffic management.
Ecdis is now bonding with the new concept of the integrated navigation system – itself the measurement tool within the broader scope of e-navigation. This gives ecdis a timely new prominence as it enters its final year countdown to being fully mandatory. As Michael Bergmann, president of industry association Comité International Radio-Maritime (CIRM), points out, ecdis – even in its current S-52 and S-57 standard – is technology that is already 15 years old. But with the new standard S-102 bathymetric electronic navigational charts (ENCs) now being developed, “ecdis will become an increasingly important asset for e-navigation,” Mr Bergmann commented.
Other market drivers are also at work. The rapid switch from paper charts to ENCs has reduced margins and commoditised both the hardware and the software for bridge manufacturers and distributors alike, accelerating the shift towards connectivity and solutions selling. Advances in data communications enable ENC data to be integrated with frequently updated semi-dynamic data such as weather information and dynamic data from the ship’s sensors.
Last year London, UK-based consultancy The Strategy Works conducted research to consider the overarching technology trends and their likely impact on ecdis and the wider shipping market in 2017 and beyond. It completed 20 in depth interviews in the third and fourth quarters of 2016 with senior managers from the leading global suppliers of data communications systems, bridge systems and data distributors, to gain their respective sector perspectives and assess the impact this is having on their strategies going forward
Definitions of connected ships and e-navigation
The term “connected ship” has connotative meanings. Some view it as the connectivity within the ship itself but others highlight advances in ship-to-shore (and shore-to-ship) communications, which have an impact on ecdis.
Inmarsat senior vice president Drew Brandy explained: “The connected ship enables shore-based organisations to reach into the vessel and interrogate it, and to optimise its performance.”
Canadian distributor Marine Press’ vice president of innovation and technology Nicholas Bourque agreed. “It is the ability to exchange information fluidly from ship to shore, from shore to ship and to the different parties involved,” he said.
The connected ship in turn defines e-navigation and prompts some ENC data distributors, such as Navtor in Norway, to embrace the concept. It supports Navtor’s vision of shore-based remote monitoring and control, which finds form within its NavStation and NavBox software. Navtor managing director Tor Svanes commented: “Our focus is to bring all kinds of required e-navigation information from ship to shore and also providing information to the ship from on-shore.”
Maritime safety is enhanced by e-navigation which operates rather like an air traffic control model, ensuring the whole vessel is connected to the shore-based control centre and then setting the actual route to avoid accidents. Mr Bergmann expects that ecdis will become an integral part of e-navigation, as it is already part of the integrated bridge.
“E-navigation is about increasing communication between ship and shore, shore and ship, ship and ship, and shore and shore,” he explained. “We are approaching a major innovation, as we are moving away from ecdis towards an integrated navigation system with an integrated display. Once that happens there will be marine service portfolios, which are currently under development, such as providing real-time tidal information from tide stations.”
Satellite communications is a pivotal strategy driver
In The Strategy Works research, 85 per cent of those interviewed singled out faster and cheaper satellite communications as the overarching technical facilitator. This was closely followed by the connected ship and its impact on shore-based control – 75 per cent of the respondents.
Marlink maritime president Tore Morten Olsen explained how VSAT is improving connectivity. “We have doubled the throughput without any price increase and added gigabyte packages,” he said. The perfect storm of falling data costs and faster speeds enables new product platforms, said Mr Brandy. “We are providing much more capable systems that can support multiple activities, because the vessel has become an ecosystem,” he added.
Advances in data communications also stimulate new market entrants. For example, engine manufacturer Wärtsilä acquired Finnish software house Eniram for €43 million in July 2016, spotting its potential for data-driven operational and technical optimisation of vessels. Eniram’s managing director Henrik Dahl explained the reasons. “Eniram’s value is in the insight we provide. We do not just use raw data. We enrich it with advanced modelling along with continuous data collection.
Two months after the acquisition, Eniram launched the SkyLight performance monitoring solution that uses portable hardware and software, sold as a service. On board it only requires a transponder, that is attached to the rail of the ship by the crew. There is no capital investment involved for the shipowner. “We can make a profit at €460 per month, and that provides the owner with a transponder with a satellite connection and full cloud service,” said Mr Dahl.
Another provider in the VSAT data communications sector is Orange Business Services. Its maritime division is a fast growing vertical sector, with plans to add 200 vessels per year by 2020. Head of business development and satellite services Michel Verbist believes ship operators can now see the vessel as an office, adding: “Customers want to save on fuel. To achieve that you need to have real-time information, in order to make decisions to follow certain routes.” But it is the data communications that make it all possible. “Issues can be detected, analysed and solved while the vessel is still navigating,” Mr Verbist explained.
The link to e-navigation and hence ecdis moved into sharper focus after Orange unveiled a strategic partnership with chart distributor Global Navigation Solutions (GNS). This sees the integration of GNS’s Voyager software with Orange’s Maritime Connect platform. GNS also acts as a re-seller for Orange. GNS head of marketing Hayley van Leeuwen perceives the benefits: “Software solutions optimised for VSAT will include navigational data download, remote diagnostics, onboard system security and crew WiFi.”
The link between satellite communications and ecdis becomes even stronger when shoreside activities such as recruitment are taken into consideration. Martin Taylor, chief executive of global chart distributor, ChartCo, sees crew welfare as a major driver for satellite communications. He added: “Crew want to be able to use social media on other devices on board vessels.” Mr Brandy said that owners see ship connectivity as a recruitment tool. “Crew are increasingly demanding that they sail on vessels that are internet-enabled.”
Another factor in the mix is a variable crew skill base, as observed by Kongsberg Maritime sales manager Roger Trinterud. He believes it is important to build systems that support the moving of competence from the vessel to onshore facilities. For Kongsberg, the link with ecdis is a key part of the platform. “Our strategy has always been that navigation is part of a ship-wide control system,” he said.
Inevitably this accelerates the move towards shore-based management, and the connected ship will provide the tools to support this concept, including condition monitoring to anticipate maintenance requirements. Radio Holland chief operating officer Dennis Mol envisages a more connected future. “A lot of mission critical equipment will be monitored or measured, and the data portal will be kept on shore to eliminate unnecessary visits on board to undertake services,” he said. “If regulations permit, the back of the bridge operations will be moved to shore.”
Partnerships and acquisitions in e-navigation
As suppliers across all sectors realign their strategies they seek partnerships – either with each other or externally. Examples are plentiful. In 20 companies interviewed by The Strategy Works there were 35 partnerships in place. Some global chart distributors, sensing the lower margins that ENCs generate compared to the paper charts that preceded them, have sought to add value through partnerships. For example GNS has partnered with bridge system supplier Sperry Marine to integrate the Voyager passage planning software with Sperry Marine’s bridge software.
Emerging marine technologies are fuelling a spate of acquisitions that are changing the landscape and, in parallel with private equity, providing funding for the development of innovative partnerships and driving new strategies. Most notable of these is Navico, which has recently been acquired by Altor Private Equity and Goldman Sachs Merchant Banking. They plan to support the growth of Navico with an injection of more capital.
This partnership is already on the move, as Goldman Sachs has also joined Altor in the recent acquisition of chart provider C-Map (formerly Jeppesen Marine). Navico’s commercial marine division managing director Nicolas Quéru said that the company’s ambition was to be counted amongst the largest in marine navigation by 2020 with ecdis a key part of that strategy. “Our 2015 acquisition of Maris, coupled with increased collaboration with our sister company C-Map, will deliver innovative solutions for our mutual e-navigation customers,” he said. “New capital will be available to integrate the key elements of the ecdis ecosystem and build optimisation tools to help fleets operate more safely and efficiently.”
Other notable acquisitions include Apax Partners private equity investors acquiring both Marlink and Telemar in 2016. These were combined to form an enlarged maritime communications group with a sales turnover of over US$450 million. With leading chart distributors backed by private equity – ChartCo owned by Equistone and GNS by Phoenix Equity Partners – the stage is set for further industry consolidation.
Impact on company strategie
Suppliers across all sectors are refocusing their strategies to align with these new technologies. Transas, which built a reputation for manufacturing its own ecdis hardware and linking it to its own-branded ENC format, is now switching focus from products to solutions. Transas chief executive Frank Coles said that the company is aiming to become a shore-based integrated fleet operations centre. “We are trying to create an ecosystem in a market which is largely fragmented.” Mr Coles prefers to focus on added value services such as training, where Transas claims 45 per cent of the global market, rather than on lower margin activities such as hardware.
Transas is also creating its own cloud-based data platform, the Maritime Industrial Internet. “Shipping companies want to have one platform for traffic control, to understand and manage the traffic and not just monitor it. So this shared platform is in big demand now within the industry,” Mr Coles explained.
C-Map’s strategy is moving in a similar direction. Global sales leader Steve Mariner confirmed that fleet optimisation is part of the business, as is software that provides route optimisation advice to the ship, enabling shore teams to manage the performance of individual ships against set criteria such as fuel usage.
New platforms are now emerging to transmit this data ashore. For example, VSAT solutions provider KVH Industries specialises in the cost-effective transmission of large files using its multicasting IP-MobileCast service. Robert Hopkins, director of IP-MobileCast services, said: “We connect the ship to shore by multicasting. Our network is simply not troubled by the problem of sending very large files.” This facilitates the transmission of ENCs and updates, and the forging of more commercial partnerships and new business models. “We distribute chart databases from C-Map and Transas so that our shared customers always have the latest data at the disposal of their bridge officers” Mr Hopkins added.
The march towards the connected ship is inevitable, said digital navigational solutions provider Datema’s international sales manager Jelle Glas. He warned about the risks of hacking or virus infection once ecdis becomes integrated rather than a stand-alone tool. “If a ship is sailing with ecdis but the crew does not know that the system has been corrupted by a virus put into it via the web, then that is a big risk. But all of these systems will be integrated and come online. It will happen,” he said.
The impact of the connected ship cuts across all e-navigation suppliers including hydrographic offices such as Primar, which is operated by the Norwegian Hydrographic Service. Primar director Hans Lauritzen said it is developing services to support the distribution of bathymetric data. Navico, too, is working in this area having acquired Contour Innovations which gives it access to bathymetric mapping technology.
“Some providers have adapted their applications to support Primar ENC distribution technology and updating mechanisms,” said Mr Lauritzen. Some pilots use hand held devices with an app that is capable of displaying ENCs and downloading updates online. We have several hundred registered users using apps of this kind.”
Around 45 per cent of all interviewees foresee a role for mobile devices on the bridge. Furthermore, the growth of crowd-sourcing creates a demand for hydrographic offices to verify and accredit unofficial new data sources, which presents them with a new market opportunity.
So, faster and lower cost satellite communications, coupled with the connected ship and shore-based controls, are driving innovation in e-navigation. The highest connecting themes in this research was that they intertwine and impact on each other. They are also the main strategy drivers, prompting a surge of technology partnerships and acquisitions across all sectors.
It is clear that ecdis and ENCs are an integral part of this transition with all leading distributors now aiming to provide some form of value-added service, such as back-of-bridge passage planning software linked to ENC permit purchase or a pay-as-you-sail solution. There are a number of competing systems supported by well resourced in-house software teams, such as ChartCo’s PassageManager (installed on 10,000 ships) and GNS’s Voyager. ChartCo has gone a step further by offering, through its acquisition of Regs4Ships, a comprehensive regulatory compliance service for the mariner which it has made pivotal to its strategy.
Business models that transcend both the interpretation of the data and its transmission to shore are the most likely to succeed as the concept of e-navigation takes hold.
This article has been written by Michael Herson firstname.lastname@example.org of strategic marketing consultancy The Strategy Works. It specialises in original and global business to business insight within the shipping industry and other sectors.