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Why tanker shipping is ahead of the digital game

A survey conducted on behalf of OrbitMI has revealed that vessel operators in the tanker sector have started to explore the benefits of data-driven intelligence. Early movers are likely to be rewarded

THE Covid-19 pandemic has already had a massive impact on shipping. Its influence is likely to change the industry in several ways.

Possibly the most far-reaching effect will be a transformation in the way maritime companies think about data.

There is no doubt that shipping’s need to embrace sustainability lies behind this change. Before the pandemic, talk about sustainability was at a high level; now everyone has it as top of the objectives.

In order to become sustainable, shipping must focus on improving efficiency. This requires the capturing, processing, and analysing of data.

That analysis provides insights for decision-makers across multiple business teams.

So far, however, the digital journey has been characterised by concerns about cost, concepts, and commercialisation. Will my investment pay off? What does artificial intelligence mean for my company? Are my competitors ahead of me?

Faced with pressure to become cleaner and greener, shipping’s leaders are expected to build teams capable of taking commercial decisions on the basis of data generated from onboard sensors, weather feeds, noon reports, Voyage Management Systems, and other existing systems.


The tanker sector is slowly but steadily developing the skills it needs to capture and process data. However, a survey carried out for OrbitMI, a vessel performance and maritime intelligence platform, shows there’s a way to go.

The whole point of capturing data is to interpret and enrich it so departments can take action. Capturing data has become easier, however analysing it appears to be at an early stage of development.

The OrbitMI survey discovered this is partly because most companies still use MS Excel spreadsheets. Although they get the job done, spreadsheets make it harder to share intelligence across the company.

They introduce an element of cyber risk and increase the possibility of losing data. Further, spreadsheets limit the potential for broader scientific analysis.

Serendipitously, other software tools are now available. Tanker operating teams have begun to use advanced alternatives such as PowerBI and Oracle/SQL. There are even SaaS (Software as a Service) technologies to ensure commercial teams remain part of the decision-making process even when they are working remotely.

The more advanced processes such as predictive analytics will be handled in future by artificial intelligence. AI or machine learning is still in its infancy. Some tanker companies are exploring its potential, but while shipping always seems behind the curve in new tech, a recent McKinsey & Co survey found that few companies in any sector have yet achieved stellar results.

Is tanker shipping ready for the AI revolution? Could significant moves be made towards sustainability through such simple expedients as weather routeing or route optimisation?

It is now understood that data and the intelligence that comes from good analytics lie at the heart of tanker shipping development in the future. They influence every aspect of business, including the running of ships, the management of teams, and compliance with regulations.

Nevertheless, the OrbitMI survey shows there remains work to be done in all aspects of data capturing and processing. Only one-third of respondents believed good use was being made of analytics to generate actionable insights, and less than half thought management teams were being given adequate insight from which to take effective action.

Early movers are already busy exploring; they are likely to gain competitive advantage.

Click here for more on the report and on how tanker shipping is preparing for a digital transformation.


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