Global Maritime Forum sets out data-driven vision

February 13, 2019

Talking shops are ten a-penny in the maritime industry. The sheer number of conferences and events is bewildering and the amount of hot air generated could power a medium sized cargo ship.

The Global Maritime Forum (GMF) is different; more Davos than after-dinner keynote; invitation only and designed to produce outcomes, not just opinions. Last year’s gathering in Hong Kong examined numerous topics using multiple working groups but there was one clear area of primary interest: data.

Digital technologies are contributing to transformation of many industries, including the maritime industry; the key question is how they can help address the issue of maritime safety through collaborative action and data sharing.

So important is data to the future of shipping that almost a third of the Forum’s working groups addressed this topic, with conclusions that could help shape the future of vessel operations, efficiency and safety.

The shared challenge for the industry is finding a way to work together that unleashes the potential of data. The forum set an ambitious vision for 2030: to reduce safety incidents by 70%, insurance costs by 50% with no oil spills or fatalities, all through the use and sharing of data.

A starting point would be to identify existing data flows and leverage systems already onboard ships to increase the amount of available data. This would allow for an increase in collection without new capital investments. The next step would be to explore the establishment of an industry-wide platform for sharing data related to safety.

Acknowledging the industry’s traditional preference for opacity over transparency, development of a business plan could lead to a pilot project and building on these outcomes, a roadmap for how to roll out the initiative to the wider industry could be developed. This could also be used to launch data sharing initiatives related to other collective challenges related to fuel efficiency or supply chain optimization.

It is important to distinguish between two types of digital business models, one that increases competitiveness at the company level, the second that improves the ability to address common challenges at an industry level.

Since companies are usually unwilling to share commercially sensitive data or ideas, the focus was on how digital business models can be used to address shared industry challenges, with safety the obvious area to explore.

The GMF identified data sharing as having the potential to overcome fragmentation in maritime safety and inspired by practices from the aviation industry, shipping could establish a platform that enables international bodies to collect, analyse and publish safety-related information.

One approach could be to set up an open source platform for information sharing about the performance of mariners which companies could use to benchmark performance and enable them to hire masters with the right qualifications and a sound safety record, a database that could subsequently be expanded to other key personnel groups.

An important issue is how to handle privacy and legal issues. The forum identified a wide range of stakeholders that would need to be involved in developing and refining the idea further, including insurance companies, ship owners, port authorities, class societies and flag states.

Leveraging data to address the challenges facing the maritime industry also means finding new ways of working together: building trust, developing common standards and improving transparency.

Collecting and sharing trusted data is the foundation for using digital technologies to improve performance but the real value of data will be unleashed by combining it instead of keeping data siloed within each company or stakeholder.

However, with this realization follows a challenging question: How do we create the conditions, standards and tools for data sharing in the maritime industry?

Examples do exist; the effectiveness of Port State Control was greatly enhanced when authorities started sharing data and making it publicly available. The industry could also draw further inspiration from the airline industry, which has succeeded in creating an industry-wide system of sharing information that is used to improve safety.

Developing a standardized language within the industry that could be used for data sharing is also needed. Other related issues include security and how to handle the access rights to the data, since companies will have a natural fear of sharing too much information.

Few in the industry would be willing to share data with commercial entities, but a neutral governing body with a custodian role, similar to the IMO, might be a venue to facilitate a data sharing platform.

Indeed, in the near future, data sharing might change from primarily being an opportunity for improved performance to a requirement, since real-time monitoring could become a demand of customers and charterers as well as regulators.

Ultimately however, there is more to data than bits and bytes. In order to be successful in the digital economy, the GMF concluded, it is not enough to adopt digital business models or use digital solutions.

Instead it takes a mental transformation: a mindset fit for the digital economy of the future. Understanding that digital technologies are opportunities and not threats is more important than any specific digital business model or digital solution.