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Digital progress requires sweeping away deep-rooted technophobia

A Lloyd’s List webinar heard that maritime remains rooted in legacy systems. A mindset change is needed that regards digitalisation is a long-term policy achieved through many small gains

Digital disruption is unlikely in shipping because of the industry’s complexity and fragmentation. Key elements in change will be diversity thinking and digital leadership, speakers confirm

SHIPPING stands far to the left of the bell curve of digitalisation, with the early adopters testing and verifying and the early majority about to commit, panellists on a Lloyd’s List webinar, sponsored by OrbitMI, has agreed.

The breakthrough is likely when the bigger maritime players share the benefit of digital solutions for sustainability, efficiency, and safety.

Speakers were OrbitMI adviser Sid Probstein; Searoutes sales vice-president and WISTA Denmark president Jocelyn Hansen; Nautilus Labs implementation and support vice-president Beeni Jacob; and Spot Ship vice-president for strategy Federica Maiorano.

The panel was less enthused by a massive digital disruption than by a more gradual transition as digital solutions are incorporated into business workflows.

“So far,” said Ms Jacob, “we have been more focused on having the tools and not so much on how to integrate them into internal processes.”

The speakers, who have either recently landed in maritime or collaborated with businesses outside the industry, picked out fragmentation as among the chief reasons for slow adoption, together with continued attachment to legacy and tradition.

“Many of the processes I come across are relics from shipping’s past,” Ms Jacob observed, while Ms Maiorano suggested shipbrokers are “technophobic”, reluctant to adopt new solutions because they are “still fundamentally mistrustful” of most digital solutions available to the job.

Even so, advised Ms Hansen, such is the international scope of maritime that “it’s not the case that everybody has access to the technology or the data or all these wonderful products”.

Digitalisation mustn’t be limited to the most forward-thinking people in the industry, she stressed. “We also have to help those who need data and technology but do not necessarily have access to it.”

Standardisation of data would go a long way towards bringing the industry together, although speakers were united in their concern that cyber attacks pose a threat and must be taken seriously by all players.

Discussion of the talent needed for digitalisation to take off encouraged Mr Probstein to reflect that in the world of electric vehicles and retail, “the massive success and disruption that’s occurred in the past 10 years has been because those industries have brought in ‘tekkies’.”

“When you think about the way maritime can evolve,” he said, “it’s much the same: bringing on those folks to co-create and introduce the new ideas.”

But technologies must be adopted by the people doing the work.

“You can’t take a bunch of ‘tekkies’ and say, here’s a fantastic disruptive solution. It would go down like a balloon with a hole in it. It would be impossible to adopt such a thing: you have to fit it into those workflows and make it real.”

Ms Hansen commented that the key to digital success is diversity of talent and thinking. “Understanding and listening to different voices in the industry will inspire creativity and innovation, and inspire people to adopt digitalisation.”

Asked to identify one or two actions that would help shipping companies to move towards digitalisation, Mr Probstein advocated making it someone’s job to progress digital solutions.

“Hire someone to be the shepherd during the digital journey and make some small bets. Because many small bets are a much better way to get started.”

Ms Hansen urged executives to “find out who your leaders are — not just your leadership team — but the leaders within your company and empower them to provide leadership to the rest of the organisation and drive the change that way”.

Beeni Jacob warned against only buying a digital solution. Rather internal leaders must ensure the new technologies are integrated into their daily tasks.

“Make certain that digitalisation is not just a terminology; it must be part of your day-to-day work,” she said.

Finally, Federica Maiorano pointed out that challenges for any company are more than likely to be challenges for other companies.

Solutions are available today, she said, adding: “I think most players in the industry still think they have to go with the lowest possible cost if we take anything digital.

“This is the wrong mentality when it comes to something which is progressive. There needs to be an attitude adjustment.

“One of the ways to start being digital is to have a mentality that sees this as an investment for the longer term.”

The webinar ‘Digitalisation as a Service: Gimmick or Game-changer?’ is available to watch via our on-demand platform

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