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Live from CMA Shipping

Digitalisation offers tremendous upside for the shipping industry

John Lusk, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Spire Maritime talks about what has been holding back maritime digitalisation.

Seatrade Maritime News: What has been holding back the industry’s adoption of new technology and digitalization?

John Lusk: I think there's several reasons for that - one is that in order to really transform an industry digitally, you've got to collaborate, you really have to work together. It's not a we versus them sort of situation, you really have to work together to transform. I think the maritime industry in general, is still really more competitive and isolated, and I think we need to see a lot more collaboration to accelerate that curve. The other one is just a level of risk taking. I think the industry, as we all know, is one of the oldest industries in the world. It's also one of the largest and arguably the most important industry to the global economy. When you've been doing things a certain way, for so long, it's hard to change. And when you look at the maritime industry, then you're asking them, hey, adopt data and do more things and take out all of your old systems that have been in place for 50-60 years, I think there's a little bit of a risk aversion there, which is totally understandable. But to truly get out of the space that we are in now, which is still kind of bubblegum and chicken wire with a lot of systems, a lack of understanding of data, a lack of utilizing data to make much better and faster decisions, I think we need to become a bit more risk taking. I think that just requires a bit more education around what data can do for us.

Seatrade Maritime News: How has the pandemic accelerated the adoption of technology in the industry?

John Lusk: I think with the pandemic, you had an event which is what once in 1,000 year type of event where you don't have contingency plans. What do you do here? When the pandemic hit, everybody was impacted, there was not a single person, single industry single company that was not impacted in some sort of way, by the pandemic. The only way to turn was to look at look at the data, you know, try to understand what is happening here, you can no longer look at sort of past experiences and say, based on my past experiences, what we should do. There is no past experience, and so turning that data to understand, okay, what are we seeing here? What can be done? I think we started to see more companies recognizing that needed to happen. And so you started to see opportunities for companies to kind of come in and help the maritime industry understand what data can be used.

Seatrade Maritime News: How was this transformation helped attract new people with new ideas to shipping?

John Lusk: I think it's critical, I think it's critical for a number of different ways. One, it brings in knowledge, right? You know, when you're when you're coming out of university these days, it's no longer a question of whether or not you're a computer science major, who knows how to code, say, 50 to 60% of individuals coming out of universities have an understanding what code means, right? Some of them actually may have taken, a programming class. So there's a level of knowledge that the younger generations have, that they can bring into the maritime industry. And I think you have, at least historically, I think the maritime industry has been one of the oldest workforces in the industry. I don't know if this is accurate or not bad. I remember when I first came into the industry three years ago, in doing my research, I think the average age of the maritime employed in the industry was something around 30 to 33 years old, when you look at a typical Silicon Valley based technology company, is probably around 23-24.So I think you need that younger generation, you need to you need that infusion of new ideas, not afraid to take risks, that  knowledge and that knowledge transfer, I think it's imperative, I think you're going to start to see that.

Seatrade Maritime News: What can shipping learn from the digital transformation of other industries?

John Lusk: One of my first projects was in the aviation industry. And we came into one of the largest US-based airlines. This was right at the advent of the Internet run 1993-1994. And they wanted to sort of adopt new technologies, because they felt like the future was it was in the internet. So we came into, to look at their systems, and it was systems that had been built over the course of 40-50 years. It was literally just a mess of all these different systems, old systems built on old programming languages. We were in charge of taking them through this two year journey of replacing those systems and getting them to this point where they're on systems that were collecting data. It was a painful experience, but if you look at the airline in the travel industry now, they're probably the most sophisticated in terms of digital transformation. So it's taken them 25 years or so but like they are at the top of the curve and I kind of see the maritime industry, the shipping industry at the same level where aviation and the airlines were kind of in the early 90s, which means that there's just tremendous upside for the industry.