Shipping companies need to plot a safe and reliable route to digital transformation.

The only constant in the shipping world is change. And navigating change requires a secure path to digital transformation with integrated holistic solutions that can optimise business processes to manage the difficult transition to a zero-carbon future, according to OrbitMI.

Many shipping companies are grappling with the challenges of implementing intelligent process automation with digital technologies that harness data analytics for emission and efficiency gains in response to evolving regulation such as the EU ETS and CII, as well as demands for green operations from customers and stakeholders as the market focus shifts to environmental performance.

Simplification of operational processes through digital automation is vital for efficient monitoring and supervision to raise environmental performance so that companies can remain compliant and competitive in the new green market reality amid constantly shifting regulation.

But Ali Riaz, CEO of New York-based software-as-a-service company OrbitMI, says: “An abundance of data and rapid adoption of new software do not necessarily amount to digital transformation, which is defined as enhancing business performance by integrating people and technology to make operational processes more efficient and profitable.”

In its study ‘Avoiding the digital divide’, research firm Thetius states that one of the main hindrances to successful digitalization is “a lack of strategy, which leads to overambitious, often unstructured automation” with the desired results failing to match expectations, leaving businesses disappointed and reluctant to invest again.

Industry issue of fragmentation

Deloitte identifies a lack of clear vision, implementation costs, process fragmentation, resistance to change and lack of IT readiness as the main barriers to adoption of automation across industries, stating that “breaking down functional and process silos is a must”.

Resonating with this, Riaz points out that one of the biggest obstacles on the route to transformation is the inherently fragmented nature of the maritime industry with siloed systems that hinder data-sharing and integration to optimize operational processes. Such siloes prevent holistic data analysis, make collaboration difficult and slow down decision-making, he says.

“Unlike other industries, shipping is fragmented by design due to the multiplicity of companies and stakeholders spread across the globe. This has left shipping companies with closed legacy systems and a protective mindset that leads to digital inertia with a lack of innovation,” Riaz explains.

According to the Thetius study: “Many organizations are still implementing digital and automation projects in silos, largely due to a lack of alignment between departments and industry-wide fragmentation. Collaboration between solution providers, shipping and logistics companies, and most importantly, the very people that will be expected to work with new technologies, is key to their successful integration.”

Need for transformation strategy

To address the challenges of change management in maritime, OrbitMI together with strategic partner Bureau Veritas Marine & Offshore (BV M&O) are seeking to promote industry understanding of what business optimisation actually means and helping companies make sense of the software market so they can leverage relevant technologies with the right product-market fit to accelerate transformation.

As part of this effort, the pair are holding client workshops to discuss issues around technology adoption with the goal of helping companies develop a strategic roadmap so they can properly manage quality, safety and sustainability risks to move forward effectively with optimization.

Riaz says the partnership can support companies in their transformation journey by combining OrbitMI’s digital competence in AI, machine learning and data analytics with BV M&O’s multi-disciplinary technical expertise covering all areas of ship construction and operation, as well as fluid dynamics, data science and regulation, among other fields.

“As partners, we share a common vision that collaboration is at the heart of innovation and creating value,” Riaz says.

Facilitating integrated workflows

BV M&O’s Vice President for Digital Solutions Laurent Hentges believes a transformational shift in cooperation both within organizations and across the wider industry is necessary to meet the challenge of decarbonization, which can be enabled by digital technologies that facilitate integrated workflows - and this was the primary motivation for its partnership with OrbitMI.

He says OrbitMI is taking “an empathetic, holistic approach to innovation” by seamlessly integrating with existing IT architecture to create a unified digital ecosystem accessible across an organization, providing connectivity between different systems to counter the industry issue of fragmented systems and processes.

“We see digitalization as a key lever to improve our operating models and collaboration with clients by building intelligent workflows that support our classification services,” Hentges adds.

The Orbit vessel performance platform operationalizes data from multiple APIs of various software vendors into intelligent connected workflows, defined as the orchestration of automation, AI, analytics, data feeds and skills to fundamentally change how work gets done.

This eliminates repetitive and time-consuming manual tasks prone to human error, such as multiple log-ins, double entry and cut-and-paste, caused by having data stored in different siloed systems that hinder information flow and overall productivity. Orbit allows a seamless flow of real-time data available through a single user interface that provides actionable insights in areas such as weather, fuel consumption and emissions for better voyage decision-making to improve operational efficiency.

Human-centric approach

Riaz says: “It is important to ensure innovation delivers sustainable, flexible and future-proof solutions that can evolve to meet user needs in line with changes in regulation and the operating environment. This requires technologies with collaboration, transparency and data-sharing at their core that are user-friendly and easy to implement to minimize innovation risk and maximize ROI.”

His view is supported by the Thetius study that recommends a human-centric approach to process automation so that solutions are designed “with the human touch at their core” to empower the end-user to work more efficiently.

“Matching people, processes and technology in automation projects is critical to their success. A strategy that pinpoints your pain points and uses automation to target the most pressing user frustrations is one that is likely to achieve the desired results,” it states.

Such a strategy must therefore entail a process analysis to identify specific inefficiencies in the organization, determine the tasks or processes that can deliver most value from automation and find the right solution to meet the requirements, according to the study. An organization looking to automate should also assess whether it has the right people with the right skills to manage and maintain technology as it scales, as well as determine budget parameters so there are realistic expectations of what automation can achieve, the study states.

Riaz believes such internal assessment and alignment procedures are important to make the right decisions about technology adoption so that digital processes are harmonized with the way people actually work, creating integrated workflows with a single source of data truth for business decision-making.

“Decarbonization demands that the industry adapts to new automated ways of working, and change management in maritime will require a reliable route to digital transformation,” he concludes.