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Totally digital – Forging ahead with a gamechanger

Tototheo Maritime is driving digital solutions for partners who are growing evermore aware of their increased B-to-B needs.

While 2020 will be seen in the future as one of THE most unforgettable years, it will also be the year that digital processes came to the fore in a struggling shipping industry. This is an industry that is now continually seeking extra business-to-business value-adds in every corner and every process. We spoke to Tototheo Maritime co-CEO, Socrates Theodossiou about the developments that are changing the way the industry does business, and how digitalisation is no-longer a catch-all phrase as the industry sees different processes for different benefits.

In which business areas of a ship owning / management company does your organisation provide digital applications, and in which areas are they planning to deploy applications in the future?

The shipping and maritime sphere is increasingly connected. It is one where the ship manager, owner, suppliers, and shippers all have data and communications needs to and from each other. This connectivity of data – and information – is an enabler of more efficient business processes for the ocean logistics chain and port operations; and it is into this area that Tototheo Maritime has seen a need for a highly sophisticated and competent supplier to enable smooth business transitions.

While we still offer our clients the same high value services we always have done, we have seen the need for a company that can help with this digital journey of its clients, and this is one of our many focus areas. Digital applications are as much about increased effective collaboration between companies as it is about improved internal processes.

How much does a ship owning / management company is expecting to save in operating costs over the next 12 months from the adoption of digital solutions?

Let me start by explaining why that question is impossible to answer. There are many different ship owners, ship managers and other organisations involved in the shipping industry. They all have differing outlooks and potential for investment. Digitalisation is not a case of fitting a solution to an existing operation and leaving it there. It is about an evaluation of the potential for transition and change and recognising the benefits that are available. It is a journey, and different companies have different journeys, different objectives and therefore different digitalisation possibilities and needs.

Now, to answer that question properly, no company should go down a digitalisation journey if there is no apparent benefit to it, and we would not advise any company to broadly “digitalise for the sake of it”. It is also worth to mention here, that not all benefits will be immediately perceivable as they may span out over a period of time and in addition, they may not be directly quantifiable. Because each organisation and company will have different business processes, organisational structures and relationships with clients and suppliers. In some cases it may be that a customer demands a process change.

On average, how many digital solutions are currently deployed on each vessel, and how many do you expect to be deployed in two years’ time? (adoption of onboard digital solutions)

Not all vessels are highly digitalised, and others are. One can look on a bridge of a vessel and look at the range of navigational aids – ECDIS, AIS receivers and transponders, IBS, DSC radio, sat navigation (GPS), Satellite communication tools (Inmarsat, Iridium, Vsat), and then some of these systems and others are linked to the VDR or other data collection tools.

The engine room of a ship is also full of alarms and monitoring equipment, and modern engines have a growing array of sensors that are recording status data such as temperatures, emissions values, pressures, the quality of the lubrication oil, the quality of the cooling water. Some vessels have podded propulsion and these have an array of data too that is collected – all of this information is made available to the onboard engineers and for some ship managers to shore side centres that can also monitor vessels and fleets. Some use sophisticated automated data centres to create an overview of vessel condition, including linking this to crew welfare, port communications and chandlery issues such as spare parts ordering.

Some vessels have data sensors for cargo as well – and this list will be different for a container ship, a tanker, a gas carrier and an iron ore carrier and passenger ship.

Then there is the security side of things, where vessels need to be cyber secure, so more sophisticated ships, with greater ship to shore connectivity (through satellite or other means) are at risk, so need systems to both monitor for breaches and prevent them being damaging.

And with the talk of smart ships there is research ongoing to create a better integration of the systems on board to see how they can be combined and then analysed, and this is one of the key points. There is increased data being made available, and there are systems now, including many startups, being able to use this data to make suggestions for operational improvements – either improvements that can be automatically done, or through a human decision maker.

On top of that there are companies that have devised algorithms to take AIS and other tracking data to offer services to shippers, governments, port, and other authorities, without having to take any data off the ship.

As more and more flexible connectivity solutions become available through value added providers such as Tototheo, we can expect the vessels to become increasingly digitalised.

What according to your opinion are the enabling technology(ies) you believe will deliver the largest digitisation benefits to a ship owner / manager?

Well, going on from the last question, the vast amount of data that is available, or can become available, will create opportunities to analyse performance trends and adjust vessel performance. It will also lead to opportunities for greater transparency between connected partners to enable more opportunities when they can better pool resources. It is a case that with digital connectivity between partners the sum can be much greater than the parts.

With enhanced connectivity channels, data feed from a vessel is available in near real time, and the growth in the satellite communication market is fuelling this. Without the investment in satellites we will have a communication problem with ships at sea still today and they would still disappear over the horizon when they leave port. Thanks to high throughput satellites we can get vessel data, track vessels and command vessels if we want to.

So two of the biggest enabling technologies are satellite technologies and cloud technologies which allow the vast amounts of data to be stored and instantly accessed and analysed for decision making.

What data/technologies would help a ship owning / management company move towards decarbonisation?

This question is, I think, best answered by examples, but first, I should note that there is a difference between reducing carbon emissions and total decarbonisation. The use of weather routing systems has been well noted for adding performance to a voyage, where a given vessel on a given voyage between two ports can be routed more optimally to ensure the voyage can gain from weather, tide, currents and other external factors. This in turn saves fuel, thus reducing emissions. Vessel performance tools are another way that both crews and vessel superintendents and shore-based managers can tweak operational parameters to reduce fuel consumption and therefore reduce CO2 emissions. The same goes for tools such as torque meters and other systems that can be linked to sophisticated systems that can determine when a vessel’s hull or propeller are becoming biofouled and need cleaning – a fouled hull creates more friction through water and therefore needs more energy to maintain a given speed – and more energy means more fuel which is more emissions.

Those are some examples where vessels are already benefiting from software programmes that can take vessel data and determine where and when improvements can be made.

But when it comes to decarbonisation, we need to look at new fuels, new ways of operating and in a lot of cases more sophisticated systems. This is a journey, shipping is beginning to take now, and it comes at the same time as talk about autonomy and autonomous systems. I believe the two are interlinked. We will see greater digitalisation with decarbonisation.

Again, using one example, the Yara Birkeland is a vessel that has been built, but not yet entered service, to replace thousands of truck journeys between a fertiliser plant and an export harbour in south Norway. The decision was environmental – a part of the company’s decarbonisation strategy. The decision was made to look at an electric powered vessel, which in turn led to looking at a vessel with the potential to run with reduced and then no crew onboard. Digitalisation is a core element of the Yara Birkeland concept, but its starting point was to severely reduce the carbon footprint of a part of a company’s transport chain.

Does Tototheo have the right solutions to collect and analyse data to help your clients move toward decarbonisation?

The decarbonisation discussion is broader than just the discussion of digitalisation. Digitalisation itself will not decarbonise shipping, but it will be a big part of the picture and an enabler. Decarbonisation is THE big long-term hot topic, and it is linked with greater transport chain efficiency. We need to remember that shipping is only one part of the transport chain, and greater data flow and transparency between relevant parties in the flow of goods will ensure this happens more effectively. At Tototheo Maritime we are working, among others, on solutions that create more efficiency in the flow of information, thus improving (automated where necessary) decision making to enhance overall business processes. Digital solutions are key tools to make business processes more efficient, and better efficiency is part of the low carbon future.

Are class societies doing enough to advance digitization within the shipping industry?

The classification societies have been very forward in developing digital solutions for the shipping industry. I think they play a key role in the uptake of digital solutions as in many cases they set the guidelines which vessels need to comply with. In order for the positive trend of technology uptake by shipping, all stakeholders need to ensure that they work keeping in mind the best interests and the possible limitations of the end recipients or of the reality of our industry itself. We have seen all too often how solution providers believe their product is the silver bullet to a problem but failed to make sure clients can understand it and work with it with their own clients. It is hard to create and succeed with a digital solution if it does not directly improve the efficiency of all who are to use or be affected by it. What is needed in any digital solution is an ability to make business processes easier and more effective for all.

How is your organisation preparing for the introduction of Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) and do you believe the ship owning / management companies will engage when the first commercial MASS is available?

There is a lot that could be written about Maritime Autonomous Surface Vessels. First we need to ensure when we talk about MASS whether we are talking about the thousands of drones that are currently being built or the potential commercial projects that are being developed. MASS drones are already in operation.

Then we need to understand whether we are talking about autonomous or unmanned vessels. There is already a growing level of autonomy on vessels – and the unmanned engine room is if course testament to that. There are already talks of periodically unmanned bridges on existing ships – this is in itself a form of MASS, just as the development of unique projects like the Yara Birkeland have been talked about as the game changer.

We believe that the real focus has to be on modernised training for an industry with smart ships that has crew on board, but whose purpose may be evolving.

Who do you see as the owner of the data from digital application? The manufacturer, the owner, the manager, or the service provider and why?

A lot of the discussion about data began when owners and managers did not know what to do with it and were scared of it being accessed by competitors. With this fear receding we have seen companies form trust partnerships. The ownership of it is a commercial decision between the parties that are to work with it. In some cases, the decision making is made possible because more than one organisation has pooled different data sources to enable a better operational picture.  Most companies are already realising that the ownership of data is not the problem, because owning it and not knowing how to make use of it is pointless. We have become scared of data because of how personal data can be used.

But there is a lot of data that is available, and it is how it is used in digital contexts that is being discussed.