Shipping companies are focusing on the future and increasingly turning to digital technology to streamline operations, become more efficient and make cost savings.
Whilst prior to the COVID-19 pandemic many had been slow to embrace digital technology, now companies recognise it can be a way to become more agile, adaptable and competitive.
A report by Inmarsat last year highlighted that the pandemic was a “universal disruptor and catalyst for digital transformation” and the adoption of digital technology in the maritime sector will be three years ahead of previous estimates by the end of this year.
The reasons for this is that, like all industries when the pandemic struck, shipping companies needed to find new ways of working as lockdowns, remote working and people stuck on ships for months on end changed how they worked.
Those that had already adopted cloud based digital solutions found that they could pretty much carry on as usual as they had data and information stored in one place, which was accessible to everyone on land or sea from any device.
As we move beyond the pandemic, many more companies are embarking on digital journeys to aid business recovery and seeking to automate many business processes to improve their operations.
Many are turning to cloud technology solutions like our Cloud Fleet Manager system so all data can be accessed in real-time and in one central place. This means people no longer work in silos and can communicate and collaborate easily with colleagues wherever they are located.
As data is centralised in the cloud, important information such as maritime instructions, crew schedules and payroll data can be accessed by everyone involved, which speeds up communications and productivity.
However, whilst the technology drive continues at pace, companies will be increasingly seeking more sophisticated outcomes, with demand for high quality data and analytics being paramount to the recovery. Digital technology is a simple way for them to get this.
However, digitalisation doesn’t just happen overnight. Shipping executives often mistakenly think it’s a relatively easy process involving the movement of data from paper-based systems into digital formats that can be shared across the business, but this is just the first step.
Extracting the ‘good data’
For companies to truly automate any process and access meaningful analytics and insights, they first need good quality data, which can be challenging for companies new to the digital environment. This is data that is consistent and high quality and in a format that can be extracted easily for reports and analytics.
Once good quality data is captured shipping companies can gain insights into areas such as risk management, maintenance, purchasing or finance to support decision making and making future business predictions based on past events.
However, whilst many have vast amounts of data, most of it is neither consistent nor accurate. Furthermore, even if companies have technology systems in place to capture data, not all employees obey the right processes all the time, leading to poor quality data that is inconsistent, incomplete and can’t be used for reporting.
This can be seen in a simple request from a vessel to purchase essential items for the crew. A crew member might request the items in a digital order form correctly using a standardized catalogue, but at the last minute someone adds washing power to the list as a free text.
Instead of following the same process, they write the words washing powder on the form, skewing the digital process, and making the data unreliable. To overcome this, they need to use ship management software that guides and forces them to input accurate and consistent data.
This software is rule driven and demands that rules are followed every time, so that the data is precise and can be trusted to give a realistic picture. The stricter the processes for entering data, the better the resulting insights, analytics, and calculations will be.
Whilst the process of inputting data may seem laborious, once a company has quality data, they can then automate their processes and reap the benefits for their business. For example, using our cloud-based management software if a company wants to make any purchases, they use a standardized digital form that is sent to suppliers, who use the same form to offer their products.
This data is then used by the system to automatically show the best prices. It helps companies overhaul purchasing by automating the entire process and gaining real time visibility into their budgets and operating expenditure (OPEX).
Having this reliable data also offers the option for more automation, e.g. linking purchasing and scheduling information to automate the delivery of goods to the next destination of the vessel.
Maintenance work can also be automated using our maintenance software which gives real-time visibility of the entire fleet and enables managers to keep track of maintenance work centrally, precisely and according to requirements and priorities.
This includes a cash flow planning tool, so managers can make accurate statements about the distribution of jobs as well respective costs and how employees will be utilised for each job. They can plan maintenance tasks over the year and make budget predictions based on what work may need to be done in the future.
Another example is our crew management software. Once a seafarer’s personal data is entered correctly, they can then go into the system to add their hours and expenses. This automates payroll and the money goes straight into their banks.
By automating such processes companies save significant time and money on administration. It provides reliable data that can easily be compiled into reports or for analytics to help managers make predictions about future expenditure and take actions where needed.
Trusted and consistent data is at the heart of the digital journey and reaping the benefits of automation. Becoming digital mature takes time and it cannot be achieved without the cleaning up of data fist. Miss out this vital step and its harder to realise the benefits of digitalisation.
Get it right and companies can use their data to make informed business decisions and predictions on all aspects of ship management, from purchasing and budgets to staffing needs and vessel maintenance. Having clear, quality data that gives insight over processes is key to business recovery and future success.