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Nor-Shipping: Corporates must invest in digital maturity

In an age of disruption maritime companies need to be more open to change and the risk of project failure.

Hosting one of the Fathom disruptive talks at this year’s Nor-shipping, Mat Duke, vice president of Kongsberg digital, said it is more important than ever that companies create an agile mindset within their employees and embrace change. In an age where a growing number of start-ups are threatening to disrupt the status quo in many sectors of the maritime and other industries, companies had to be prepared to create internal start-ups to literally disrupt themselves.

Giving the start-up perspective was Constantine Komodromos, Founder & CEO, Vesselbot. Representing ship owners was Aleksander Stensby,  Chief Digital Officer, Klaveness  along with  Matt Duke, Vice President, Kongsberg Digital (pictured) Olivier Cadet, EVP Kongsberg Maritime and Dr Maurizio Pilu, VP Digital Innovation, Lloyd’s Register.



Matt Duke from Kongsberg Digital had an interesting perspective to be able to set the background to the debate with the company a hybrid between large corporate and a start-up having only recently been formed in to a business unit within Kongsberg.

Duke set out three hypothesis, or rules, for how large corporations can survive in an age of disruption.

The first is to make innovation a core business vision. It is also vital to share this right across the company, as it is difficult to build a culture if no-one understands the vision.

The second is to pay attention to cross-industry trends and form strategic digital partnerships. He says firms should look towards “open digital eco-systems” and to seek outside help when needed, or as he put it: “It’s OK to ring a friend to do a sanity check.”

Duke’s third rule is to make digital disruption and the need for continual change an integral part of the company’s DNA.

And to put these rules into practice it is vital to bring leaders onboard, Duke explained. He says it is important to invest in the digital maturity of the board and top-level management teams. Leaders must understand the value of data-driven decisions and they must own any successes from the outcomes. But likewise, you must allow failures and encourage curiosity.

The debate:

As it moved in to the discussion, the panel was asked why, if shipping and digital technologies have been around for so long, is disruption just happening now.

Constantine Komodromos, founder and CEO of VesselBot, believes there aren’t actually that many start-ups around in maritime. One reason for this is the knowledge entry-point required to get into shipping. For many entrepreneurs there is simply too big a time investment to be made, and if you are already underfinanced, it will be difficult to survive the “death valley” of the initial period while you are trying to learn about a whole new industry.

But is there an appetite today for shipping start-ups?

Komodromos says that if he was asked that question a month ago he probably would have given a different answer but recently his company is starting to get some attention from finance players.

Christopher Rex, head of research at Danmarks Skibskredit (Danish Ship Finance), sees very modest growth ahead for shipping but the impetus for investment will come from building additional layers of value and profitability. Value creation is very much about insights, he believes. However, on the question of disruption, he believes that not everyone will gain from it.

Aleksander Stensby, chief digital officer (CDO) with Norwegian shipowner Torvald Klaveness, agreed with Komodromos that there aren’t currently that many maritime start-ups. He puts this down to the fact that shipping is a very slow-moving and conservative industry, unlike consumer markets which react very quickly to customer demand, enabling the likes of Air BnB and Uber to grow so quickly. But he adds that it is important to bring a new mindset to problems in shipping by combining digital expertise with traditional industry knowledge.

Olivier Cadet, EVP of Kongsberg Maritime, agreed that it is important to bring in new skill-sets such as digital expertise to shipping. This usually involves recruiting people from outside the industry. He believes that disruption is also likely to come from outside shipping as the industry has lost a lot of key competencies over the past number of years.

Maurizio Pilu, VP digital innovation at Lloyd’s Register, says the best way for a shipping company to move forward is to put plans into action.

“Doing stuff changes the mindset more than a thousand powerpoint presentations,” he said.

Stensby was also of the same opinion, explaining that in Klaveness they live by the mantra: “Live a little, learn a lot.” He says it is energising to see people taking these new ideas onboard.

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