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Leadership, connectivity, and smart ships

Gijsbert De-Jong, Marine Manager & Sales Director – Marine & Offshore at Bureau Veritas, summarises the first day of Shipping2030 Asia 2018, and talks about his key takeaways.

At this year’s Global Liner Shipping & Shipping2030 Asia, we gathered some of the most prominent thought leaders, and asked them to share their views on the hottest topics in shipping and maritime.

Gijsbert De-Jong, Marine Manager & Sales Director – Marine & Offshore at Bureau Veritas, summarises the first day of Shipping2030 Asia, and talks about his key takeaways.

Watch the interview or read the transcript below.

Lili Nguyen: How is the maritime leadership adopting to digital changes and how do they see innovation?

Gijsbert De-Jong: We had a very interesting first day, talking a lot about digital transformation in all its different aspects. We started the day off with a look into the future-like possibilities of artificial intelligence, and then having several more sessions where we talk about its meaning for the shipping industry and what we can do with it.

The leadership discussion was a very important one because it is the discussion which actually frames the shipping companies, supplier industry and everything around the shipping companies on what things we can actually do realistically. It was for opportunities that are there to improve business either through efficiency optimisation or new business models or altogether new services. Or on the other hand, balancing this with the constraints of daily operations.

Shipping is a volatile, cyclic industry with ups and downs. [At the moment], we are coming from a fairly deep down, and that means that shipping companies are still relatively constrained in what they can do and especially what they can spend. I think the leadership of shipping companies is very much looking into finding that balance between what is realistic to do within their means and what they want to achieve with that.

A lot of the discussions were on strategy. But once we have that strategy, how can we work with our companies, partners, and internal organisations to do the change management? How can we make sure that people in our organisation are buying into these changes, that they see the necessities, and are willing to help to make it a success. One of the keywords of digitalisation is collaboration, and that only works if you have buy-in.

So, a lot of the leadership discussion was on finding a balance and how to get buy-in.

LN: Is connectivity a disruptive technology in shipping? What can we learn from that?

GD-J: I don’t think connectivity has that much a disruptive effect, but it is helping. Actually, during one of the panel discussions a really interesting thing came out which was shared by everybody: the shipping industry has not been an innovator, in terms of digitalisation. In fact, it is an industry which is doing a catch-up on a number of industries which are much more ahead. In that respect it is the connectivity which actually helps us to do stuff that other industries have already done before.

Shipping is a very old industry. Without digitalisation, we could still move goods from one place to another, but in order to do so efficiently and in an integrated logistic way, connectivity really helps us accelerate the process of efficiency improvement and logistics improvement overall.

Therefore, I don’t think it’s really disruptive. But it is helping us accelerate the catch-up, and that is quite interesting. Smart ships, connected ships, Internet of Things are a part of it, and they are really gaining traction now in the shipping business.”

LN: What are the challenges of implementing connectivity, especially on vessels?

GD-J: The main challenge is the balance issue, having enough bandwidth – I mean, you can never have enough bandwidth in principle! But there is a cost to that bandwidth, so it is important to get as much as you can but at a price that is affordable in order to make the business improvement you were searching to do, otherwise there is no return on investment and it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

So, bandwidth is the main challenge in a way, but it’s also a matter of prioritising. We have on board business critical information which needs to be shared. There is no way you can get around that; that’s the first priority you have.

But then you also have the IoT side of things, the fact that devices are on board, systems are on board. More and more instruments are connected which help us improve their performance and do maintenance optimisation; and we have – this is a key aspect which was discussed today – crew welfare. There are people on board. And those people are away from home for months on end, and they have certain expectations, especially in today’s society of being connected to devices in order to be connected to their friends and family and have access to platforms which we all use on a daily basis, and that’s not at sea! But in order to do so, that’s a bandwidth issue.

It’s a matter of getting enough bandwidth; balancing the priorities right; and potentially, and this is quite an interesting thing which came out of the discussions today, doing some of the analytics that we do now on shore on the vessel. Edge computing is going to help us make that possible. That’s the next thing in terms of innovation.

LN: Is there enough technology available for shipping to build a smart ship?

GD-J: It depends a bit on how you define a smart ship. We had an interesting panel discussion on that, where we asked all four panellists to define what a smart ship is in their minds. The consensus of that is that the principles are kind of in place.

Again, bandwidth would be helpful, but it’s not only about bandwidth at all because that is mainly the connectivity part. But we can already go very far in terms of automating navigational systems on board ships. That is a smart ship from a navigational viewpoint which is getting quite close. And at the same time, we can do more and more on the level of systems and systems integration on board.

The technology is not 100% there. There is still stuff, which is under development if you like, but the basic building blocks that are existing today. The rate of implementation of the changes in the new technologies will be gradual as it is also a matter of business efficiency and especially of cost.

It depends on what kind of industry, what part of the business you are in, what is constituting the majority of your cost. In a lot of the transportation industry it is fuel that is more important than CAPEX or cost of people. That is driving a completely different discussion on where to optimise.

So, is the technology in place? Overall, it is quite advanced, with some elements still being in an experimental stage. But the rate of implementation and the speed will be guided by the principles of return on investment, other considerations and technological capacities.

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