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Marine Electronics & Communications

Marine Electronics & Communications

Shell is ahead in shipping digitisation

Wed 13 Sep 2017 by Martyn Wingrove

Shell is ahead in shipping digitisation
Panel discussions highlighted the challenges of shipping digitisation

Shell has transformed its maritime and shipping business through digitisation, but still faces challenges. The energy giant is ahead of others in shipping in analysing large data packages from its fleet of ships to make smarter decisions and integrate logistic chains.

Ships operated by Shell have more than 500 data points and connections to ports and terminals to enhance their operations, said general manager for shipping and maritime Carl Henrickson.

Shell invested in data analytics to “optimise performance” of ships and make changes in real-time to vessel operations. “We are creative with data analytics and creative in interventions and have automated our systems,” he said at London International Shipping Week. 

Digitisation comes with issues though. Mr Henrickson counted these as the cyber risks that come with connected ships, concerns about the transition from physical-based to cyber-based business practices and what he called “a rush to digitise”. He urged other shipping companies to “embrace change to make it happen” and have “strong leadership towards digitisation”.

As shipping becomes more digitised there will be winners and losers. The conference delegation identified shipbroking and ship chartering as the main segments of the industry that are the most vulnerable to digital disruption.

However, shipping needs to flow with the changes, said Mr Henrickson. “Technology change is already happening so you need to be ready and doing this,” he said. “You have to have different mindsets and change company culture.”

In the panel discussion, Lloyd’s Register vice president for digital commercialisation David Ryder said internal friction to change in organisations was the biggest challenge to the adoption of digital practices.

He encouraged shipping companies to “employ chief technical officers to adopt digital change, engage with customers, invest in IT and learn from digitalisation of other sectors”. Mr Ryder said smaller shipping companies could use cloud computing and online applications to compete with operators that have larger funds.

Shipping should adopt new technology platforms to remove routine operations and reduce the deluge of data that managers have to process, said Varamar Group and ShipNext founder and chief executive Alexander Varvarenko. During the panel discussion, he urged shipping to employ these platforms to improve transparency. “Shipping is global so we need a platform for everyone to interact,” he said. “Shipping needs to be transparent, but it is a grey business and this stops digitalisation. But this will be the next step.”

Ship connectivity is a key enabler of the digitalisation of shipping. Inmarsat provides that through Fleet Xpress, its hybrid Ka-band and L-band service. Inmarsat Maritime president Ronald Spithout expects this connectivity will enable software and hardware on ships to be interconnected. “In three to five years, ships will be connected to logistics and end-users will demand integrated networks and more information,” he predicted. “It is coming together and shipping will change.”

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