Giampiero Soncini has spent 49 years in the maritime industry. The first 14 as an Italian Navy Officer, where he was involved in the building of a class of Frigates which had, at the time, the most sophisticated Automation plant ever built. Then at NATO, where he was the technical manager of RV Alliance, a very modern research vessel, which also had the first GPS ever allowed outside the US Defence area, and the first Integrated Navigation system ever built. On the Alliance, he met a software called Amos and after 14 years he felt that Amos was going to be the future, and dedicated the following 16 years to its sale and development, at the helm of SpecTec, the company which created the software. In 2017, he moved for a short period to RINA, the Italian Classification society, and he is now the CEO of IB Marine.
Mr. Soncini, can you tell us what IB Marine does?
IB Marine is a company specialized in software for the Maritime Industry. It has been in existence since 1983, but mainly operating within the Italian and Cruise markets, so still not well known outside these boundaries. We have offices in Italy, near Genova, Miami and Limassol. But we are rapidly expanding with the recent opening of an office in Leer, Germany, and Singapore.The software we sell are the classic ERP solution (Planned Maintenance, Procurement, Dry Dock, Quality & Safety), the brand new Electronic Log Books (Engine & Deck, BWM, Garbage, Oil Record Books parts I, II, III, Scrubbers’ management etc.); and the futuristic Performance module, which is much more than what the name implies.
The company you manage, IB Marine, has just been acquired by Arribatec of Norway. Can you tell us the reasons behind this move?
IB was founded in 1983, to provide Cruise Lines with a Procurement system. The owners mainly remained in the cruise sector, and in the Italian market. When I came on board, I quickly realized that while IB had simply amazing software, they needed new directions and a strong reorganization, in order to be able to grow. The shareholders were willing to sell, so I set myself up to organize the acquisition.
But why Arribatec?
Past experience told me that Venture Capital companies, or financial investors seldom want to cope with the ups and downs of the shipping market. I am a seafarer; this means that I am on board with my customers. I am on their ships. When they struggle, I struggle with them. When they win, I win with them. A company working in shipping needs owners who understand shipping. Arribatec is Norwegian, which means that, like Greece, it has shipping in the DNA. They provide Financial and HR software solutions also to a large number of Norwegian shipowners, so they know the market. They are small, but strong and robust, and with great shareholders. And finally, Arribatec CEO, Per Ronny Stav, who I knew well, and I shares the same ideas on business and the future of technology in shipping.
What makes IB different from all other suppliers of IT in shipping?
Oh well, of course I could say “we have the best products” (like I did already, didn’t I?), “we have the best support” and so on. Life has taught me that a competitor is myself in the mirror, so I prefer not to say that (again ….). But there is one thing that set IB at a higher level than most (not all) of our competitors: experience. If I combine the years of experience in maritime IT in IB, we reach the thousands years. And yet, average age is mid 40s, which simply means that all IB employees joined after school or University, and stayed. Because our work is catchy, you either leave immediately because it is too tough, or you stay because you simply never have a dull day. IT in shipping is bloody difficult, but it is also so interesting, and in IB we simply know very well how to do it. We know shipping, we know IT, and we know how to combine the two. It’s a passion, in one word.
Where do you see the future of IT in the Maritime world?
I think most people who know me, will know my reply: automated vessels. I mentioned them the first time at Digital Ship in Athens, in 2007. In 2011, I started to mention that large fleet had to be remotely monitored via a “NASA” like control centre. In 2013, at Maritime Cyprus, I mentioned how ships did not need crew anymore and ships would be crewless in 10 years from then. Some people in the audience really did not like it. But guess what, it is happening. Thanks to the EU funded projects such as Waterborne and MUNIN, thanks to NFAS from Norway (and Ornulf Jan Rodseth) and so on. In 2018 IMO issued the first official document of MASS, Marine Autonomous Surface Ships, and since then it has been going downhill, with everybody starting to work on autonomous vessels. We now have the Yara Birkeland operational, and Japan, in 5 years, has gone from zero to be at the top of the feasibility studies, also thanks to MOL and NYK work, and the one of Ando Hideyuki. Moreover, ISO TC/8 committee has drafted the Intelligent Ship rules…. In other words, it is now happening, probably the biggest evolution in shipping since the time we left sails in favor of engines. In IB, we are doing our job, being one of the first companies to deliver a full turn-key project for InfoSHIP FORCE, which stands for Fleet Operation Remote Control Centre. We will unveil the first one in Limassol before Christmas. It will bring Fleet Control Centres to all shipping companies, big and small. And coupled with our software Performance, it will be a game changer. Of course, we are not the only one doing it. But we are the best (ops… I did it again….), and possibly the least expensive. There is no doubt in my mind that shipping will become totally automated in less than 20 years. What worries me, is that Mediterranean shipowners seem to be too much far from it, and risk being left behind
Any plan to retire?
I turned 66 in January 2020… for me it simply means 2×33, and thus I am only at the beginning at my 3rd time of being 33….. I love working, and creating jobs. I love serving the needs of my customers. So why should I stop doing what I love most? Yes, I have the music, with Minus One (best Cyprus rock band, for those who – shame on you – do not know…)… so I am still combining the two, hoping to bring them on some Cruise vessels 😊
Any big news for our readers?
We are about to sign a large contract, which makes me happy. And Arribatec just bought a company specialized in Business processes for medium to large companies. With Arribatec, we plan to expand business substantially. My target is to have 2000 ships with InfoSHIP in 2 years from now….. and you will soon see how this is happening already. So, like me, even your readers will have to be patient and wait….
49 years in shipping…. If you could express your life in just a short sentence, what would you say?
Never, ever give up. Never. Only you can convert your dreams in reality.