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Kate Adamson, Futurenautics: "Technological innovations are secondary"

Kate Adamson shares her vision of the future of shipping and the global trends that will shape its journey in the upcoming years.

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.

In this interview, Kate Adamson, CEO & Founder of the Futurenautics, tells us about the global trends that will shape shipping’s journey in the upcoming years.

Watch the video or read the transcript below.

Lili Nguyen: What are the next technological innovations that the industry should look out for?

Kate Adamson: I actually think that the technological innovations are secondary to the new kind of world order because shipping has, for centuries, served the engine of global trade. We are seeing significant changes in demographics, and that’s going to lead to significant changes in global trade patterns. That’s where the technologies start coming in, because technologies are partly responsible for some of these changes. Technologies which are disrupting the shipping industry are also the technologies that hold potential for them.

In terms of digitisation, obviously the most important one is connectivity, particularly from a vessel perspective. One of the things that held shipping back in comparison to other industries has been the expense and complexity of deep-sea connectivity, satellite technologies being literally rocket science. Now, with the advent of new satellite networks, the cost of communication is coming down, and it has opened the gate to new technologies and new opportunities to bring activities on the vessel closer to the organisation. And of course, it also gives the opportunity not just to transfer data to and from end points of a vessel, but now actually access all sorts of other functions as well on vessels.

LN: What economic and social trends do you see emerging that will impact shipping?

KA: We are entering a really interesting period in history. We’ve got these global megatrends such as the shifting influence of the G7 resource scarcity, rapid urbanisation, climate change, then you have all the technologies that are driving mindset changes. These mindsets now prefer collaboration, transparency, and access. So, these three things are coming together to profoundly change the world that we live in. What’s even more complicating is that thanks to the exponential growth of these technologies, change is happening much faster than it has ever done in the past.

So shipping is not alone in trying to cope with this massive change, but it may have started at a bit of a disadvantage because it hasn’t had access to the kind of bandwidth that has allowed shore based companies to roll out all sorts of new technologies over the last 15-20 years.

So how will this socio-economic stuff impact shipping? Well, shipping exists to serve global trade. And anything that impacts global trade is, by extension, going to impact shipping.

LN: How close is shipping to industry 4.0? Where are the gaps?

KA: Industry 4.0 is really about creating a global interoperable value chain that is shared by different companies and different countries. But the key thing about industry 4.0 is merging the physical and digital, the cyber physical, systems.

Over the last 3-5 years, shipping and other industries have been rigidly focused on getting data. Everybody wants data, and as much of it as possible, and rightly so! But what we’re moving into now is another phase, and now we are going to be able to start materialising rather than just digitalising. That means bringing together all this data from real-world objects and allowing us to truly innovate in the physical space.

A lot of ship operators and managers have said to me over the last few years ‘we can’t be a digital platform; we’ve got big assets and need space; we have big pieces of steel’. But now, after all this effort going into digitalisation and bringing in data and understanding our meat space in a digital form, the opportunity is clear. Where we go next is to use that data to start innovating cyber physical systems.

So how close are we to industry 4.0? We are absolutely not there yet, but equally, industry 4.0 is about all industries working together. We’re not all there yet. We are moving in different stages, but shipping is undoubtedly part of the journey. And I think that once people begin to understand that the next stage are these hybrid ecosystems that bring digital and physical together, it would possibly give a lot of comfort to ship operators who have struggled with the idea that everything in the future is going to be digital. These big chunks of steel floating on the ocean – what do we do with those? This is now a part of the sea where the two come together.

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