‘Big data, big muddle’

Nor-Shipping is coming to a close. The 50-year-old show does a fantastic job at identifying future trends for our industry. One of the buzz themes at this year’s show has certainly been big data, a term I must admit I hate, but since everyone uses it, I will so that we are on the same page.

What is clear is that big data will revolutionise shipping, and perhaps make commercial decisions less of a gut feel. It’s more a question of how long it will take the industry to handle this step change – and whether all companies will be able to.

Hans Ottosen, ceo of Danish voyage data recorder firm Danelec Marine, reckons shipping is behind on collecting data as to date it has been difficult to collect data and it is perceived to be difficult to transfer the data, that is one of the big bottlenecks for shipping, he told a conference on the sidelines of Nor-Shipping.

Dr Martin Stopford, president of Clarkson Research, said that ownership of data will be a key issue and the unwillingness of companies to share it is very common. He related how he heard on a recent trip to Long Beach that shippers are increasingly bitter about the quality of data container carriers are providing.

“Big data, big muddle,” the Clarkson analyst said at the same conference. He also questioned how shipowners with 10 ships or less who make up 85% of world shipping will handle all this data. These types of companies do not employ tech officers, Stopford noted.

Stopford’s thoughts were echoed by Peter Hinchcliffe, secretary-general on the International Chambers of Shipping, at another Nor-Shipping conference.

“The next battle is to persuade stakeholders to share data for mutual benefit,” he said, adding: “I am not convinced we are in place to fully analyse all this data.”

90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone, according to Professor Richard Clegg from Lloyd’s Register Foundation.

Roger Adamson, chief executive of Futurenautics, said the industry needs more data analysts ashore, ideally millennials without much preconceptions of shipping, so that they are unlikely to adopt the gut feel commercial nature of the sector which has led to such a cyclical industry.

All good points, now can someone please come up with a better term than big data please.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.


  1. Sam

    I agree that the term ‘big data’ is too nebulous to be useful for the challenge (and opportunity) that our industry is facing. It infers all that ‘social data’ – shopping habits, etc that is of no relevance to shipping. At LR we are specifically looking at machine data – which I think is a more helpful description. And the solution lies in what we’ve described as ‘data-centric engineering’, ie. designing assets for data capture, machine data analytics, developing codes and standards and technology road mapping to understand what’s on the horizon. For anyone interested in our approach, the LR Foundations review on data centric engineering can be downloaded at :

  2. Thanks Mark! Good stuff this LR document, really helpfull to grasp the wider perspective!

  3. Cheers Mark — machine data — that sounds a whole lot better — more specific than this ruddy Big Data malarchy. The Prof from LR Foundation gave a very good, jaw dropping in places, speech at Nor-Shipping, I was wondering if he might like to precis it as a contribution for Splash?

  4. Sam et al

    Let’s not lose sight of the potential benefits that we can derive from extracting greater value from vessel operating cost data. In recent years we have seen a growing awareness of the importance of investing in breaking down and analysing opex spend as the basis for more informed decision-making. I hope that the onset of ‘big data’ or whatever we call it will accelerate this process along with other initiatives to enhance performance. Those ship owners and managers that are currently investing will reap future benefits.

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