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Platforms and digitalisation in bulk shipping

Enqlare’s Gustaf Dyrssen takes issues with those who continually say shipping is behind other industries when it comes to tech adoption.

I recently heard some comments that the shipping industry is behind on digitalisation, but I am not sure what it means, nor do I agree with that being the case. Behind whom or what? If you compare, for example, the making of cars with shipping, one might conclude that shipping is behind.

But car-making is a relatively static state while shipping is exposed to mother nature and consequently is very much weather permitting. Most ships are unique and controlled by their crew, carrying cargoes that are products of the Earth and are therefore slightly different even coming from the same mine as you enter various parts of the ore body.

We see many charterers, brokers and shipowners looking – and often scrambling – for online solutions

Yesterday’s IT solutions for shipping had a problem handling that and offered specific hacks solving specific tasks, rather than base solutions on modern platform technology with workflows aimed at also making teams work more efficiently together. A disproportionate amount of effort and attention was spent on buzzwordy distractions like blockchain, which is still a relatively immature technology and offers actual benefits in only a few and very specific areas.

Wherever we look in the shipping space, companies are growing in size and complexity. Without intelligent systems, there are not going to be any scale benefits, but rather it will be tough to stay on top of the business. One might make money on the significant financial benefits from size, only to give back to the market on the operations as it becomes very complicated to operate to perfection.

This healthy trend is as likely to stop as all of us giving up our smartphones and going back to the Nokia 6610 again

When small, efficient teams operate, you sit together, and the informal information flow is significant. Bigger teams (where that casual function becomes impossible) need better and more accurate reports so that the right person automatically knows when it’s his or her time to come in to perfect the show and make the business flow flawlessly.

Shipping is a volatile business, and losing on operations usually costs much more than anticipated.

Is Covid-19 further accelerating digitalisation in shipping? Certainly so. As teams are geographically separated, we see many charterers, brokers and shipowners looking – and often scrambling – for online solutions as well as more classic hack solving software. This healthy trend is as likely to stop as all of us giving up our smartphones and going back to the Nokia 6610 again.

We see a strong trend where big charterers and brokers today are very involved in getting their IT processes sorted for their cargo planning, chartering, and post fixture processes.

We see a rapidly improved understanding of the values and opportunities that IT brings, and also a growing awareness of the pitfalls and challenges.

We do not think that it is a coincidence that their timing coincides with the maturity of platforms available in this and neighbouring industries.

So, is the shipping industry behind? We don’t think so. Historically it has been a challenge to digitalise the shipping industry, but today, when the platforms offer much value, we see a quick shift to new systems as they provide intelligence, work savings, and business control.

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