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Shipping, Formula 1 and managing the data revolution

The link between the glittering Singapore F1 night race last weekend and managing the increased data load that broadband internet on ships brings has more parallels than one might expect. Singapore telecoms company Singtel not only sponsors the “jewel in the crown” of F1 races but it also holds its annual the Singtel Maritime ICT Roundtable in the run-up to the Grand Prix.

The roundtable brings together a group of senior executives from shipping companies and managers to discuss developments in maritime communications.

F1 has undergone an enormous transformation over the last few decades. The revolution in ICT enables vast amounts of data on performance to be analysed live about the cars as they race round the track. Not just in the engineers in the pitlane, but also by hundreds of technical staff back at the team’s homebase in Europe.

Having the pleasure of joining the Singtel ICT Roundtable last Wednesday it was clear shipping was also grappling with a similar revolution. The huge advances in the bandwith and costs of satellite broadband in recent years brings with it the opportunity to monitor a vast array of operations shipboard that was never possible in the past.

It was clear participants at the roundtable were conflicted in that on the one hand there are obvious benefits technology can bring, but also many negatives that have to be coped with as well.

On the plus side, if you are having problem explaining to a charterer why unloading the vessel is taking so long, or the superintendent on shore is trying to understand a repair issue, a digital photo on email can say a thousand words.

The bad side as anyone in a shore job knows is the veritable explosion of emails, data, powerpoint presentations, photos, video, you name it, that higher bandwidth brings with it. There was a genuine concern from participants that far from making life easier or there being less work ship’s crew and shoreside managers find themselves buried under an avalanche of data no-one really knows what to do with.

Far from freeing up time and improving processes, the fear is people with real practical jobs to do running ships on the ocean will find themselves tied to a computer trying to deal with endless electronic paperwork and vast quantities of data on every operating parameter imaginable.

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