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Why shipping tech firms love start-ups

The maritime industry is getting more advanced with its digital capabilities through the latest solutions coming on to the market. But does the industry need to collaborate more or can it now develop internally to progress in the future? Samantha Fisk went to look for some answers.

It has been written in many articles, scholarly or in the media, that the shipping industry was slow appreciate digitalisation. But in the last year, perhaps two, we have seen some great advancements in the industry with new solutions coming into market. They range from drones to digital data capture, IoT, machine learning; all the digital tools that have prompted the IMO and many member states to take a keen interest in autonomous ships.

Big industry names such as Kongsberg and Warstila have been the fore runners towards a more digital future for the industry, and being supported by class societies such as DNV GL in their developments.

These developments have come about through either internal investment into digital solutions and services or more productively, through close collaboration with external companies, as explained by Silje Bareksten, chief sustainability officer at 3 Norske.

“we see that traditional players are orienting themselves to a greater degree about what is going on in the innovation ecosystem, and not only in their own vertical but also in adjacent business segments,” she told Fathom World.

For example, Kongsberg has its own digital division that has 500 software developers working on various potential solutions.

Kongsberg Digital works closely alongside Kongsberg Maritime. Mathilde Magnussen, vice president communications for Kongsberg Group explains how Kongsberg Digital created a data infrastructure solution for the maritime sector, known as Vessel Insight, and then Kongsberg Maritime offers an application for fuel optimisation called Vessel Performance on top of the infrastructure.

In addition to companies investing in their internal resources internally, they are also working ever-closer with small start-up companies that seek to get involved with the industry, developing solutions for the market. Kongsberg has also played a vital part in bring these new technologies up through Equinor’s TechStars Energy programme, which last year saw Eelume, a subsea inspection AUV win its accelerator programme.

Speeding up transformation

Wärtsilä has also been running internal accelerator-like competitions, some times with other businesses such as Inmarsat.

Silje Bareksten

Bareksten says this engagement with smaller businesses and start-ups increases the larger company’s velocity and knowledge about how to effectively start and succeed with their digital transformation processes.

She also notes that shipowners are also being proactive in the digital economy transition and building up its own knowledge and skills in this area. “A good example is Optima X, the start-up accelerator arm of Greek shipbroker and manager Optima Shipping. Norwegian Wilhelmsen has also established their innovation oriented “Wilhelmsen Digital”, she says.

At Kongsberg the key is to produce systems that work for a range of applications that are accessible to all and drawing on the skills that are required for the application. Magnussen explains that: “A digital ecosystem approach, however, means that various vendors can offer their core technology or expertise as part of the ecosystem. So, it is not really a matter of outsourcing, but cooperation based on individual vendor strengths.”

“My prediction is that smart maritime businesses will involve horizontally in the value chain and increasingly take part in accelerator programs, incubators, innovation programs and even establish their own”, Bareksten says.

Bringing the knowledge in to the industry to help it progress and also allow it to develop its own solutions would seem to be a key element. As the industry develops, so too will the skills and jobs within in. Bareksten also notes that the world is getting small and that the job roles within the industry over time will probably change.

“I believe that the skill sets required for any job change over time, and that those not wanting to realise that and are slow to react, will inevitably suffer the consequences of lower profitability and lower attractiveness,” she warns. “Now that technology is playing a much greater role in our life, training is absolutely key for company survival and growth.”

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