‘What value will my business bring when the power of computing quadruples?’

KD Adamson, Futurenatics CEO, gives readers a précis of her opening address at the Shipping 2030 exhibition held in Singapore earlier this week, an event where she took what is likely to have been shipping’s first conference selfie on the stage.

People feel that the pace of change is accelerating and they’re right. We have a range of global megatrends colliding head on with a bunch of breakthrough technologies growing at an exponential rate. To complicate matters we also have new generational cohorts who have profoundly different attitudes than those which have gone before. Understanding the difference between the linear growth we’re used to and the exponential growth we’re experiencing now is key.

It means we can no longer use the past to predict the future. It also means that the world is likely to change more in the next 50 years than in the last few hundred.

This is going to have massive implications for businesses and shipping’s problem is that it’s still using the past to predict the future. The assumption that if we just sit tight the upturn will come is a dangerous mistake. There is a new ‘seaconomics’ we have to accept – the historic link between global GDP growth and shipping volumes has decoupled, we have a demographic time bomb delivering an ageing population which buys services rather than goods and a younger generation which is the first in memory to be poorer than its parents. On top of that technological impacts for example of 3D printing and the dawn of Industry 4.0 means that methods, volumes and locations of manufacturing will alter markedly.

There is a new landscape for business which is turning traditional vertical markets into far broader arenas, as evidenced by the activities of digital companies like Amazon, Uber, Facebook and Google. Connectivity and mobility are merging and shipping could face very different competitors very soon.

So is shipping just rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic? Absolutely not. The technologies which are disrupting us can be used to our advantage. Intelligent transportation systems are an integral part of industry 4.0 and that where shipping needs to play. We need to become a Blue Logistics channel, integrating seamlessly with our customers and suppliers and adding real value, as opposed to only focusing on reducing cost.

Autonomous vehicles are key in this intelligent transport system and they will be key to shipping because of that. Trying to evaluate them in terms of today’s business models is missing the point.

But more than different vessels and hyperconnectivity shipping needs a digital vision for the industry. And every company needs one too. Something which fundamentally redefines shipping for the digital age. But we need something else that’s very important- and that’s a big, hairy, audacious goal. Something transformative and defining that will attract the millennials and Gen Zs that we desperately need. And making a profit doesn’t qualify.

The place to start is with a question. What value will my business bring when the power of computing doubles, quadruples, or grows by a factor of eight? Because that’s what we’re facing inside the next decade. The way you answer that question and the action you take as a result is sufficiently critical that it will likely determine whether or not your company survives.



  1. “Autonomous vehicles are key in this intelligent transport system and they will be key to shipping because of that. Trying to evaluate them in terms of today’s business models is missing the point.”

    … so we need first to find that doors with lock where to put the key and open to the future.

  2. One problem with a future that turns on autonomous vehicles is that we have built a business around funnelling stuff into dumb grey boxes.

    It is possible that those big dumb grey boxes won’t have a future.

  3. Excellent op-ed. I agree with the concept of “keeping up” with technology or get left behind. However I believe the concept of autonomous ships is one that has ample room for debate. Autonomous vehicles and automated terminals are a no brainer and should be implemented ASAP. To everyone’s benefit. For my longshoremen friends, I advocate retraining as technicians to service the robots and equipment as we know they will need constant attention, maintenance, and repair…no matter what the geeks think or say. The marine environment is brutal on everything.

    But I would also remind Ms. Adamson and others, not to forget the basics. It seems the ones in the corporate offices and terminals ashore often forget some of the most simplistic things that are fundamental to any ocean going ship based transportation business. Maintaining good communication with your Captains and Chief Engineers would be another amazing effort. I’m not speaking about sending 2 or 3 dozen emails to your fleet each day. I’m talking about genuine comprehensive discussions on improving operations where it actually matters.

    Is your ship carrying more fuel and ballast for stability reasons because the terminals keep loading heavy loaded boxes up high on deck stacks? That will slow you down and cause more fuel burn if your trying to make up speed carrying that dead weight around. Simple huh? Yet it happens. Planners getting cargo onboard aren’t thinking of what the officers and crew are worried about. Just serving customers.

    I spoke with a Captain the other day who mentioned that his office was irate at his late arrival in Hawaii. Couldn’t understand why his average fuel voyage consumption was up and he was late, based on his pro-forma ETA?!?

    Was it because the terminal at the departure port kept him at the dock an extra two hours loading last minute containers coming through the gate late? Could it be the inclement weather the first 24 hours out slowing his vessel? Could it be the daylight savings time change between Hawaii and west coast, with one less hour to make his ETA? Could it be his schedule has absolutely no slack time or reserve time to get to his destination on schedule, no matter what?

    Does this sound incredible to you? It isn’t. It’s rather simplistic and yet, here we are talking about the future and amassing MORE data and even MORE information and somehow this is going to improve our service and interactions with customers and vendors. All the while, this investment in technology is suppose to equate to reduced costs and increased profits.


    I would hope so. But with this leap into the future in exponential steps, let us not forget some of the most basic fundamentals in our day to day operations on the ground. And out on the water.

    Want to know what the weather is like where your ship is half way around the world? How about a bridge cam that will show the rolling and heavy seas, with huge plumes of spray coming over the deck? A simple installation of “technology” like that, accessible to your marine department, will give rise to easily dispensing with sending yet another email to the Master wondering …”How’s the weather out there?”

    Its not that hard to do. Technology is already here. Yet, are we really using it to our advantage…now? What will happen when we achieve the consequences of “big data” everyone talks about today. Will we be overwhelmed by having to manage even more information?

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