Framing the future of shipping debate

Once again shipping and its digital transformation drew many readers’ attention this week on Splash.

Frank Coles’ article yesterday elicited many comments from our readership. The CEO of Transas argued maritime will have to be smarter or shippers will demand changes to their current business model.

“In the meantime while everyone sits and thinks about the current model and the current shipowner, the disruptors are going to take your lunch,” he warned.

Coles will star as one of the panelists on Monday’s Maritime CEO Forum future of shipping session, preparation for which has been storming ahead this week.

Coles will be sat alongside Kris Kosmala, a Splash columnist and general manager for Quintiq, as well as Steffen Tunge, the boss of OSM Ship Management and Sverre Prytz, a partner at Helix Advisors who used to head up BW Ventures. The session is being chaired by the founder of Futurenautics, Kate Adamson. The session promises to be a lively debate between tech wizards and the CEOs of many top shipowners and managers.

Kate has been in touch with her fellow speakers to set a framework for the discussion, and I am excited with what she has planned. I can give you a sneak preview here.

According to accountants Moore Stephens, the top concerns for ship operators are access to finance, regulation and compliance, and competition. Furthermore, according to the Waypoint Digital survey conducted with Ericsson this year 73% of shipping companies believe that digital transformation is key to the future financial and market success of their businesses.

With a room full of CEOs results from these two surveys will serve as a useful guide to make sure the session is tackling what’s uppermost in delegates’ minds but in a ‘future’ context with the following broad questions:

  • Investing in the future – access to finance for digital infrastructure investment and transformation – is there a ‘digital dividend’?
  • Smart regulation – can the technologies disrupting shipping be used to radically reshape regulation and compliance, or are we facing the ‘bureaucratic singularity’ in shipping?
  • Competition to collaboration and cost reduction to value creation – how do we adopt an infonomic mindset to realise the value of all our data both at a company and an industry level?
  • Leading digital transformation – how do CEOs and boards manage the tension between execution and innovation, combat siloed organisation structures and organisational culture that often threatens to eat digital strategy for breakfast?

Coles has been through the Waypoint survey and his key takeaway from it, he wrote in a round-robin email to fellow forum panelists regarded the common confusion between innovation and disruption, the thought respondents were transforming, when they are barely modernising, and spending nothing.

Coles’ forthright take on smart regulation, something he labelled as an oxymoron goes as follows: “The disruption that is coming in navigation is going to totally reshape the way ships operate. Regulators will have to follow, not control.”

Meanwhile, Quintiq’s Kosmala used the round-robin discussion ahead of Monday’s debate to hit out at shipping’s poor record at working together to engender technological change.

“There is lack of clear understanding of the benefit that each collaborating party obtains in the maritime supply chain,” he maintained. “Each party would like not only to gain proportionally to their investment, but actually get a dividend on top of that. We are very poor at ecosystem-wide ROI calculations that could enable the parties to understand what they would get.”

The future of shipping is one of four sessions at the high calibre attendance forum alongside dry bulk, tankers and human resources. Splash will be carrying extensive coverage from the gathering as well as other key events taking place during the packed agenda set for Singapore Maritime Week.

For more information on next week’s Maritime CEO Forum, click here.

Maritime CEO Forum is sponsored by Cobham, Dualog, DVB Bank, Gray Page, Q88, ShipServ, Transas, Veritas Petroleum Services, V.Group and Wartsila.

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. Technology – framing the future of shipping?
    Watching the headlines of shipping and economy at all from a somewhat outward position, it seems to me that the technology theme is a kind of distraction to the basic problem of our traditional believe in ever growing economy. Isn’t it that the real Problem is the self-regulative free market in which we believe? That implies insolvencies, especially as long as the financial system mostly supports persons and companies which already or still have (enough) money and not the ones who are in need of money? Is Technology the one and only solution or isn’t it just a kind of helping Instrument like mathematics for natural science?
    If the basic rules of the market will be again and again ignored – like the oversupply of tonnage in relation with cargo to be shipped, technology won’t help – neither in shipping nor in the economy worldwide. Technology is only helping positively to reduce exhaust emissions of ships and negatively to reduce human resources. Therefore the CEOs are discussing to save money on the ‘wrong’ side again – saving cost of employment through robotic Technology instead of discussing better methods to cope with worldwide industry output and need of transportation and the quality and quantity of Tonnage, taking care for the future climate and the future for human beings and nature.

  2. A very intelligent and insightful observation.
    The same industry approach has been clearly seen in the container industry. Need to reduce slot costs = Bigger ships = need to secure more cargo to maximise liftings = need to reduce rates & need for greater market share = lower than expected revenues = need to lower slot costs = need to build bigger ships – and so on ad infinitum You get the picture…
    Large companies dominate and one ends up with near blind industry group think – grow market share, outsource… cut cost. Risk adverse public companies are particularly prone to this which is why so many have been acquired by privately owned and run companies with hands on owners. (APL, Nedlloyd, P&O, Sealand, etcetera etcetera
    Sadly their is little sign of more imaginative approaches.

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