Yes, we can discuss the price of oil and its peregrinations. Or the pressing need for and surprising lack of moves to consolidate. Or even analyse to death the supply overhang and how this is expected to play out in different scenarios.
All these are important topics.
There is one much more pressing issue that needs airing – our industry’s current luddite state and the concomitant need to pull ourselves along and up the technology curve.
Information technology revolutions seem to pass our industry by without even a mere howdedo. I know of companies at which ‘technology’ means an accounting software or at best, a basic PMS coded in the eighties. I have dealt with others where manual invoice registers are maintained. Some of our websites limp from page to page arthritically. The term ‘cloud’ is often seen only in daily weather reports.
Yes, there are some (very few!) companies who have recognised the need for and benefits accruing from embracing technology and are doing some wonderful things. But, on the whole, we are well behind the current curve.
And this curve is only going to become sharply steeper, very rapidly. At the very least, the next few years are going to see:
- Centrally managed smart machinery using artificial intelligence
- Self-diagnosing and correcting equipment using machine learning
- Distributed, unified contracting of services and supply chains using Blockchain
- Unmanned and autonomous vessels, leading to vessel-swarms
- Fully-automated ports and supply bases using robotics
- Commoditisation of assets and services due to data-democratisation
These changes are not going to be incremental. Nor are they going to be optional. There is a tsunami coming; we can either catch the wave or capsize.
Out of the 18 companies in the maritime and offshore sector I have spoken to over the last two months, not one has a team focused on business technology. There is no one driving an understanding of the changes that are barrelling our way, and no one preparing to adapt to and respond to these changes. Some teams do not have the bandwidth to even evaluate a technological solution proposed by a service provider.
This is short-sighted. We need to invest now in girding ourselves for the future. We need to understand which aspects of technology will lap at our feet, and which aspects will inundate us. We need to prepare our investment strategies, our systems and processes, and our people not just to react, but to ride the wave and use it to build a future-proof business that will be spared the tumult of the storm.
Maritime and offshore companies should waste no time in investing in a capable Chief Technology Officer (and a business technology team). This role, working closely with the board and the marketing, technical and operations teams, will help develop a road-map for the future, harnessing and leveraging technology to guide the company safely and effectively into the first of many tomorrows.