‘The Digitisation of the Shipping Industry: 2020 CE and Beyond’ by Poonam Datta

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This write-up deals with ten major technology trends which directly affect the shipping industry. It does not deal with the secondary technology trends such as the hyperloop in transportation or 3D / 4D printing manufacturing which will doubtless affect the supply chain.

  1. Enterprise systems / The Cloud

Enterprise systems are notorious for their inflexibility. The enterprise system of the future will need to be robust and at the same time flexible to incorporate changes in processes, linking of web-apps and devices (smart phones, IoT, Autonomous vehicles/vessels). Enterprise systems in the cloud can provide the global organisation and the extended enterprise with worldwide accessibility and the ability to work on a single unified platform.

  1. Web-apps and personal devices

Offices will need to increasingly rely on web apps for office productivity tools such as Slack, Asana etc. to manage workflow. The supply chain for the ‘last mile delivery’ will increasing rely on Uber and Air-bnb style web-apps that employ crowd-sourcing to enable deliveries to the customer doorstep. Roadie, Nimber and Amazon Flex are already here. The ubiquity of smart phones means that employees can be mobile and remote and yet have access to the information or the tools needed to effect a transaction or make a decision.

  1. The internet of things (IoT)

Companies are increasingly deploying radio frequency identification (RFID) sensors, bluetooth monitoring, chip readers, cloud-based GPS systems and connected intelligent devices to enable automatic identification and data capture. This leads to accurate monitoring and management of shipments thereby providing real-time tracking to the customer.

  1. Social Media, Networks & Analytics

Companies must have a sizeable footprint in the social media and allied networks. They have to demonstrate and communicate their social consciousness. Broadcasting the social consciousness of the organisation be it related to the Modern Slavery Act, Diversity & Gender Equity, whistleblower policy etc. will become increasingly important. With the advent of technology, it is a given that the average age of the workforce will reduce over the next few decades. A savvy social media strategy can not only build the brand equity but also attract and retain the best talent.

The organisation must have a presence on the major social media tools like Social Networks (Facebook), Professional networks (Linkedin), Video sharing networks (Youtube, Vimeo), Photo sharing (Instagram), Microblogging (Twitter) to name a few. Moreover, the organisation will have to curate the next generation of tools that employ these networks such as Tweepi (growing the twitter brand with Artificial Intelligence) or Tagboard (Social Listening tool) and so on.

  1. Robotics

Robots have been tested in various operational areas such as ship inspections, anti-piracy, hull cleaning and fire-fighting to name a few. During the earthquakes of 2010 (Haiti) and 2011 (Japan), robots were employed to aid in the debris cleaning operations thereby accelerating the reopening of the ports. In the supply chain, robots are already picking, packing and loading shipments. The role and scope of robots will only increase in the coming years.

  1. Autonomous vehicles and vessels

There will be increased use of unmanned and autonomous systems in delivering on-shore and offshore capability due to the ‘Last mile delivery’ trend. Drones, submersibles and trucks are being tested for a wide variety of applications. The dual-use possibility of these technologies for military and civilian purposes means that research done for the military will eventually benefit civilian industry (as it happened in the case of the Internet). Self-driving trucks are already here. The possibility of a fully autonomous shipping vessel may just be a decade away. Quasi-autonomous shipping vessels should be here sooner.

  1. Big Data

The increased incorporation of information technology in virtually every aspect of operations will mean the generation of petabytes of data that will need to be processed. Big data analytics will provide a giant crystal ball for companies which are in a position to sift, sieve, slice and dice the data. On one hand, it can provide visibility into macro-indicators such as markets and pricing trends. On the other hand, it can provide valuable metrics and KPI’s about operations, processes and employees. The distilled data can be a powerful aid for decision makers to cut through the fog of uncertainty and make strategic and tactical decisions.

  1. Blockchain

Cyber-currencies may (or may not) be akin to the Tulip mania that swept through Holland in the early 1600’s. One thing is for sure, just as tulips and other cut flowers eventually became big business, the technology underlying cyber-currencies i.e. the blockchain is here to stay. The blockchain is basically structured data. It is a series of concatenated blocks of transactions that is rendered indestructible and incorruptible all without the need for a central authority. Investigations into the applications of the technology are being conducted in every industry ranging from insurance and banking to supply chain. Industry specific blockchain alliances are being formed and significant first mover advantages can be had.

  1. Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence

The progress in artificial intelligence and machine learning means that the day is not far away when the supply chain transforms itself from a ‘smart’ supply chain to a ‘self-thinking’ supply chain.

  1. Cyber Security 

As the organisation transforms itself technologically, it will have to remain vigilant. It is not a matter of “if it will happen”, but a matter of “when it will happen”. Cyber criminals can be individuals who are interested in bragging rights or criminal networks who are interested in financial gain or rogue agents within governments who may want to cripple the organisation.

The Way Ahead

It will be a brave new world– it won’t be business as usual. There will be new challenges in terms of dealing with newer types of technology vendors. Competition to the industry could come from the customers itself and it could even be a technology juggernaut such as Amazon. The globalization of technological innovation and trends will happen sooner than expected with local variations. For e.g. the utilization of Electronic Logging Devices (ELD’s) initiated in the USA for trucks soon reached other markets. In the future, corporate IT departments will increasingly require greater investment and involvement to ensure stellar success of the organisation.

(This article was contributed by Poonam Datta. Poonam has 25 years of experience in the Global Supply Chain & Logistics arena, including Managing Director of A.P. Moller-Maersk Group. She is a seasoned and respected industry leader who has earned several awards and accolades for the success she has achieved in this industry. She has made a mark as a business consultant in Supply Chain & Logistics / New Business Set-ups / Mergers & Acquisitions / Organizational Consolidation & Restructure / Turnaround Management / Blogs / Keynote-Speaker.)

Also Read: Blockchain for Shipping & Logistics by Poonam Datta

Sea News Feature, September 13