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Smart Maritime Network: Cross-industry technology harmonisation initiative launches

Next week sees the launch of the Smart Maritime Network in London. The initiative is the brainchild of Rob O’Dwyer and Cathy Hodge, two long-term names associated with the title Digital Ship who quit last month to pursue this new venture.

The network is a cross-industry maritime technology harmonisation initiative.

At the core of the idea from the ex-Digital Ship stalwarts is the creation of a new Smart Maritime Council including some of the heavyweight maritime technology companies, which will hold a series of global meetings over the course of 2019 to discuss how to improve interoperability and integration between their various systems, and how to encourage greater standardisation in the use of data in shipping.

Members of the council include companies like Inmarsat, ABB, Dell, Intellian, Cobham, Dualog, Gruppo IB and Sperry Marine.

The council will also include a group of associate members from the vessel operator side that will act as advisers at the council meetings to provide the users’ perspective, with that list so far including MSC, Wallem, NYK and AMMITEC.

On the genesis for the new venture, O’Dwyer tells Maritime CEO: “It has really been a reaction to the changes that have been taking place in the maritime technology sector, over the last three years particularly, that have created a need for a greater level of harmonisation between technology systems.”

O’Dwyer recounts how over the past decade he and Hodge, both of whom were at Digital Ship for more than 12 years, had been hearing of the common frustration among maritime participants of the real lack of standardisation in the technology available to shipping, which creates difficulties in linking different systems together and in sharing data – both within a company itself and more widely with external stakeholders.

“The recent growth in broadband availability at sea at reasonably affordable rates, driven by huge investment by satellite operators in additional capacity, has created new opportunities for shipping companies to collect and share data. However, a lot of their legacy infrastructure and systems are not so easily integrated, which limits their ability to fully grasp those opportunities and maximise the potential value of their data,” O’Dwyer says.

The Irish national argues that everybody benefits if bridge systems can share data more easily with other software systems, which can then integrate seamlessly with the onboard communications management set-up and be analysed on shore.

“Technology companies don’t need to compete on data formats, so standardisation is good for them just as it is for the end user,” O’Dwyer argues, adding: “Apple and Samsung may spend millions on marketing to try and beat each other in smartphone sales, but they still use the same Bluetooth standards for connecting to peripheral devices. That makes those devices more useful to the consumer, as they can use other third-party products with either phone, and leads to a wider range of options as developers of Bluetooth peripherals have a larger market to target, so they can invest more in developing new products.”

It is precisely this kind of philosophy that Hodge and O’Dwyer want to foster with maritime technology.

“Let’s talk about the areas where we’re not competing and where we can collaborate better to make technology work more efficiently for the industry as a whole,” he explains.

Ultimately O’Dwyer and Hodge would like to widen the net further to bring in ports and other parts of the logistics chain into their new network.

The network founders also see an opportunity to assist maritime regulators in dealing with the integration of new technologies into the maritime sector in the future, by allowing technology developers to present recommendations as a united group that understands these innovations better than anybody, and have an interest in their safe and efficient application.

O’Dwyer, a keen maritime tech expert, has his own predictions on what is likely to be leading tech innovation this year.

“I think that data collection, sharing and analysis is really the bedrock of the next wave of technology innovation in the industry,” he predicts.

In O’Dwyer’s opinion, Internet of Things technologies are likely to become more widespread to provide a more detailed picture of what is happening onboard ships, and cloud-based software applications will make it easier for the vessel to share that data with their wider organisation. That in turn opens up new opportunities for analysis of fleet performance and the ability to offer better decision support from shore.

“The technologies to do these things are already available – we just need to make it easier to put them all together to run shipping more efficiently,” O’Dwyer concludes.

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