London event discusses the disruptive future of shipbroking

The third edition of Smart Solutions event in London this week commenced with a heated discussion among IT providers and end users on the future of shipbroking. Both panellists and the audience agreed that technology is the asset which will bring the positive change in the industry. However, the need for a more radical change in practices and the way business is approached led to the questions whether data needs to become a standard, which is available for free access to all parties, and how currently used email systems can be improved.

Business processes currently in place were discussed as time consuming and inefficient for shipbrokers. Panellist Manu Ravano, managing director of IFCHOR, pointed out that technology can help a lot in the transactional and informational industry pillars, however, it cannot be a player in the advisory stage of business as people want to be in charge of their decisions. Pierre Aury, maritime advisor at Affinity Shipping, also part of the panel, agreed that from a transactional point, all standardized bits should be left to IT.

Another panellist, AXSMarine’s commercial director Stephen Fletcher, elaborated that in order to differentiate from each other, a lot of brokers are executing mundane, repetitive tasks instead of focusing on more value add to their clients. Reading thousands of emails a day or managing vast ships databases as examples, this is where IT companies can come in and add value to this outdated and inherently inefficient processes, he noted.

As part of the discussion, it was pointed out that AXSMarine, a web based service provider since 2000 to over 200 broking shops worldwide, offers such services through its AXSReader tool. Though available on a subscription basis, members of the audience believed it should be made available for free. Similarly, ships databases were discussed to be available in exchange of fees by AXSMarine and other database providers, however, it was suggested they should also be made available for everyones’ use, as part of the transformation necessary for the industry to progress into.

Audience members acknowledged that the shipbroking future is a mix between standardisation and complexity, though foreseeing that in the next few years a complete industry digital model will emerge. Examples of tools which would be interesting to brokers were noted to be email and chat systems, as well as API integration and predictive models. However, information standardisation prevailed as the factor which could provide the necessary disruption in data management practices the industry needs.

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.
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