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The future of chartering

New chartering platforms with bold transformative claims have been making plenty of headlines over the last couple of years. To assess the reality over the hype Maritime CEO brought an owner, two start-ups and shipping futurist together to understand what is actually needed to drive the business of chartering forward.

The latest episode of the Dualog-sponsored Maritime CEO Tech Leader Series powered by Ocean Technologies Group started in Hong Kong with Tabitha Logan who oversees chartering for dry bulk owner Asia Maritime Pacific as well as being the co-founder of maritime start-up pitch competition, The Captain’s Table.

Logan said a majority of shipowners felt Covid-19 had fast-tracked digitalisation.

On new chartering tech, Logan said some leaders of the pack had emerged.

Some shipowners have tried to develop their own platforms, others have tapped start-ups while a third route has been for shipowners to become involved in accelerator programmes, Logan explained.

Other companies have taken a wait-and-see approach to see what everyone else is doing, something Logan said was an error as they risked being left behind.

“There has been some hesitation from the industry because we are slightly old fashioned, every one likes to do it their own way, work with their own brokers,” Logan said.

“Having these platforms you can make decisions very quickly,” Logan said, pointing out that all the new readily available data – at a cost – gives those willing to embrace it an edge.

While there are already a whole host of platforms that exist to make the lives of those in chartering easier such as email passing software, voyage calculators, weather analytics, Logan has a growing interest in voyage optimisation software and how to combine everything under one roof.

“Everyone knows that shipowning companies tend to be quite siloed – you have an operations department, you have a chartering department, you have a technical department,” Logan explained. “Information tends not to flow freely between those three departments, not because anyone is not willing to share it, but because it’s an old-fashioned system that has been set up.”

As a chartering manager Logan wants to have access to all the data that her tech and ops teams have to be able to make informed real time decisions about her ship.

“As a chartering manager,” Logan said, “when I fix my ship I want to know how she is performing; is she over-consuming, under-consuming, what the weather conditions are like?”

Being able to make those real time decisions might save a couple of tons of fuel or improve a TCE by a couple of hundred dollars, something that over the year across a fleet amounts to a huge amount of cash.

“What I am looking for is a voyage optimisation software that creates a smart ship, a smart ship that I can take all the information we have to hand whether its the laycan, the weather conditions, the condition of the ship and I can then assess that in real time,” Logan said, going on to explain how it used to be when a ship was fixed the voyage instruction would simply be full-speed or eco-speed.

“Now we know it is really not as black and white as that – we know the different speeds and consumptions you can go at… This is a really interesting space as you can really add value and I think you can improve the overall earnings on your ships using this type of software,” Logan suggested.

In Athens, the TV show caught up with Athanasia Panagiotopoulou, co-founder of VesselBot, a platform using AI and big data to change chartering.

Shipowners this year during Covid-19 have been exploring new ways to carry out every day tasks in a more efficient way, Panagiotopoulou said. Stakeholders in the industry have realised the advantages these new platforms can bring. Being able to make decisions on real time data is increasingly important for shipping, Panagiotopoulou insisted, allowing companies to make and change decisions fast and to adapt to new situations quickly.

Automation will change the way that chartering departments do their everyday tasks, Panagiotopoulou said.

“They will be able to optimise their jobs and gain more money because they will be able to make optimal decisions. They will be able to be very fast because of the tools they can use,” the Greek tech entrepreneur told Maritime CEO. The most important thing for the C-level executives, she maintained, is that they will be able to measure their return on investment (ROI) in a positive way.

The age-old problem of shipping assessing tech ROIs hesitantly was something touched upon in conversation with Jenna Brown, CEO of UK-based Shipamax, a start-up that can count the founders of Yahoo! and PayPal among its investors.

Some technology developments are slowing down this year as there is less capacity to try things that do not show a clear, quick ROI, Brown said

“Let’s be frank no one has the money to experiment right now so I think efficiency driving, cloud driving are winning but maybe more experimental things not so much,” she said.

On what a shipowning chartering department 10 years from now might look like, Brown said: “I don’t think you’re going to see something that is wildly unrecognisable. I think you’re still going to need a human to make those judgement calls, those intelligent decisions that a machine just can’t do. I think what you will see is a lot less manual administration across the board so the first wave of that has already been going on for over a decade of processing emails and not having to write everything out and what we’re seeing trending now is integrating systems.”

The vital importance of integrating systems – and moving away from the silo mentality – as espoused both by Brown and Logan was something K D Adamson, a well known shipping futurist, focused on during the episode.

“The reason we talk about shipping being behind is because there is little understanding the entire operation needs to be optimised and what shipping is is deeply, deeply siloed and that’s nothing to do with technology, that’s to do with culture,” said the CEO of Futurenautics.

Adamson referred back to Logan’s keenness to get data from her operations and technical departments to help inform her own chartering decisions.

“I guarantee you there will be someone in her technical department saying, ‘What the hell does she think she’s doing coming in and sticking her nose into technical?’. Everybody is the same as everybody has their turf and what a lot of organisations outside shipping realised a long time ago was that you optimised everything, that you need cross-functional, agile, transparent operations and teams and you use digitalisation to do that. What shipping has been doing is bringing in digitalisation to reinforce their silos and looking at technology in a siloed way and that actually isn’t going to work; it’s not going to give you the value you expect,” Adamson stressed.

The issue will no doubt continue to make headlines for years to come.

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