How Covid-19 moved the shipping industry along on its digital journey. By Alexander Buchmann
Since the Covid-19 pandemic hit, many shipping companies are now steaming ahead on their digital journey and realizing the benefits innovative technology can bring to their daily operations. As lockdown and restrictions kicked in, businesses were forced to move their workforce to home working, which posed a challenge for many.
For some, it highlighted technology gaps and those without the right online tools and access to the cloud found they couldn’t support remote working. Those reliant on paper-based processes and outdated technology could not function and realized they needed to change.
This led many to seek out new solutions. For some, moving into the cloud for the first time and investing in maritime software to improve the way they work was no longer a nice to have, but essential. As a result, many companies have seen for the first time how this improved efficiency and productivity, and the shipping industry in general has accepted they cannot be competitive without the use of modern technology.
Of course, there are still obstacles to overcome. Connectivity on vessels at sea has been an ongoing issue and can hinder the use of cloud-based software. Poor internet connectivity makes it difficult to include the fleet in processes and exchange information.
A fast exchange of business-critical data 10is vital to stay competitive. The industry is starting to spend a lot on satellite connections, which will provide strong internet connections to shipping companies which will be similar to the connectivity offered on luxury cruises.
Once it is standard for normal trade vessels to have an enhanced connection between their office and their vessels so they can ensure the easy exchange of information in real-time, many more companies will be adopting cloud computing.
Benefits of moving into the cloud
For those who have already made the move, the biggest advantage is the real-time sharing of information and data. With data accessible in one central place, people no longer work in silos and can collaborate easily with colleagues, transforming how their business operates no matter where they are located.
They can also share important business information such as important maritime instructions, crew schedules, safety information, payroll data and other key communications with team onshore and crews. Critical business instructions can be actioned immediately, ensuring the company is responsive and dynamic and can react to any situation.
Having advanced technology that facilitates good communications is not only a must for their seafarers, but it can also support the safety of their vessels and crews and enable the effective management of their operations.
Maritime software also empowers masters on board to take control of crew management and do their administration more quickly and efficiently. They can do things like plan crew, manage all their work documentation and visas, and schedule their working and rest hours in line with regulations all in real-time and at the touch of a button.
Another area where being in the cloud is hugely beneficial is in data management and analytics. Data is the new gold for shipping companies. Being able to access and analyze accurate and up-to-date data will ensure better decision making in all aspects of the business.
Without this kind of insight, companies can often be in the dark to what is going on operationally and unable to rectify poor systems and processes in a timely manner.
Investing in digital technologies to harvest and analyze this data efficiently will help companies emerge from the pandemic in a much stronger position and ensure they are agile, dynamic and can react to any situation.
Technology is also a way for shipping companies to look after the health and wellbeing of their crew. The latest Seafarers Happiness Index1 shows big discrepancies in seafarer welfare, with happiness levels fluctuating significantly. The report also reveals that if the Covid-19 issues have brought any single seafaring issue into focus, it has been that of connectivity.
Last year some shipping companies were doing more to ensure their crews could get online, and this ramped up in the first quarter of 2021. The impact has been very positive, with those who can now more easily, cheaply stay connected reporting the impact and improvement on their life at sea2.
Being able to send emails or do video calls is something that more companies are recognizing is a great way to tackle mental health issues, as this can be a real lifeline for seafarers at sea for months. As connectivity improves for ships at sea offering internet access is a simple solution for tackling growing concerns around mental wellbeing.
Embracing digital technologies can improve the way shipping companies operate, increasing collaboration across their entire fleet and head office, streamlining processes and improving efficiency. This can help drive down costs and help companies remain competitive, something which is vital as the world recovers from the pandemic.
Alexander Buchmann is Managing Director of Hanseaticsoft, an established global provider of cloud-based software for the maritime industry. Buchmann and his team gained many years of experience in the software department of a medium-sized shipping company in Hamburg, the third largest container harbour in Europe. With Hanseaticsoft, the idea of a new software concept was finally realized: giving enterprises access to new and efficient technologies by means of intuitive software solutions. Today Hanseaticsoft has more than 50 employees.