Maritime CEO Forum: Prepare to be Ubered

Shipping is innovative, but has yet to get disruptive and the massive fragmentation of digital offerings is not helping the industry advance. That was the takeaway from a lively debate at the Digital on Deck session at Monday’s Maritime CEO Forum, the exclusive, by-invite-only shipowner gathering held at the Fullerton Hotel in Singapore.

Moderator Neville Smith from Mariner Communications set the scene, telling the audience: “Digital in shipping seems to be about saving nickels and dimes, it does not seem visionary.”

Frank Coles, the recently installed CEO at shipmanager Wallem Group, said it was vital shipping started by digitalising offices before progressing to ship developments. Coles’ argument was that we cannot discuss autonomous ships and similar topics until we have stopped pushing paper around offices. Previously a vendor for the likes of Transas and Inmarsat, Coles hit out at the confusing breadth of digital solutions being touted these days.

“The wake up moment for me in my new role is how many vendors are coming through the door. It really is a shotgun of ideas,” Coles said.

Ronald Spithout, president of Inmarsat Maritime, agreed that fragmentation was holding shipping advances back, saying: “All I hear is using an application to save some costs, but that is the lowest level. Only the most sophisticated shipmanagers are taking it to the next level. We need open platforms, open standards to share data.”

Päivi Haikkola, ecosystem lead at One Sea, a collaborative venture looking at ship autonomy, discussed company internal resisitance to embrace and share technoligical change.

“There’s a feeling we are losing our intellectual property if we open up to others, but in a digital future we have to do that,” she told the shipowner audience.

Dhritiman Hui, managing director of EPS MaritimeTech Accelerator Powered by Techstars, a maritime accelerator backed by Idan Ofer’ Eastern Pacific Shipping, argued that shipping’s hidden nature had kept technologists away from looking at how to disrupt the sector, but this was finally changing with high profile freight platform, Flexport, dubbed a “poster boy”, alerting others to shipping disruption opportunities.

Inmarsat’s Spithout warned delegates that shipping as a business is at risk of seeing its business model poached by new technology companies.

“If Uber is a disruptor then we are the taxi companies. When Uber started out you could only pay with cash for cabs. Shipping needs to prepare itself for when a disruptor comes,” Spithout warned.

A full report on the digital session will appear in the next issue of Maritime CEO magazine. Splash will be carrying a report on our IMO 2020 workshop tomorrow.

Maritime CEO Forum Singapore was sponsored by AVS Global Ship Supply, Cobham, Cockett Marine Oil, Dualog, Inmarsat, Liberian Registry, Lloyd’s Register, Marlink, ShipServ, Veritas Petroleum Services and Wilhelmsen Ship Management.

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