Interview: Shipping Firms Wasting Money on Paper in Digitalization Era


llustration. Image Courtesy: Pixabay under CC0 Creative Commons license

The era of Big Data, connectivity and the Internet of Things offers significant opportunities in terms of efficiency, productivity and cost reduction, however, not all sectors seem to be taking full advantage of these new tools.

The sheer volume of data that is potentially available can be overwhelming and companies from shipping, as well as many other sectors, are still working out how to really seize the full potential of everything digitalization can offer.

An analysis of shipping companies’ purchasing habits has identified that shipowners are very far from realizing many of the benefits of digital technology and Big Data. In the majority of cases, the potential savings remained untouched, Hayley van Leeuwen, Head of Product, Global Navigation Solutions, said in an interview with World Maritime News.

Hayley van Leeuwen
Hayley van Leeuwen, Head of Product, Global Navigation Solutions

“This is because shipping companies are still buying charts and publications in the way they did before digital navigation. In other words, vessels are carrying large numbers of both paper and electronic navigational charts (ENC) and digital publications on board just in case they may need them.

“Buying just-in-case in this way involves wasting lots of money on large numbers of digital charts and publications that vessels never actually use.”

Van Leeuwen explained that this is despite charts and publications being easily accessed via permit keys that can be emailed to ships within 10 minutes and the widespread availability of pay as you sail (PAYS) services that provide always-on access to charts.

“As a result, inefficiencies, which equate to many thousands of wasted dollars every year, are commonplace and there is a massive opportunity for shipping companies to generate significant savings simply by using our tools to help them buy the right products for each voyage and avoid overspending.”

The company created Voyager FLEET INSIGHT, as a transparent and efficient way for marine, HSEQ and purchasing managers to manage navigation compliance and cost online.

GNS explained that the company first started collecting AIS and other data like port state control histories for SOLAS vessels in 2015. Since then they have captured over 1.2 billion AIS positions for 75,000 vessels above 400 GRT and have been using that data to identify which navigational products are needed aboard vessels.

“It was through this data that we were able to see just how many shipping companies were overspending,” van Leeuwen said, adding that this drove GNS to get out in the market and show how this data could make a massive difference to what is purchased and how much is spent.

GNS VFI ENC usage view
Image Courtesy: GNS

Many marine managers reported that they do not have the time to regularly review vessel inventories against routes, flag state requirements or technical library requirements. If software is installed on board to help navigate more efficiently, it usually is not being fully exploited. And navigational product purchasing is still more often than not habitual, based on what has always been bought rather than what is actually needed.

Speaking about wastage on unused navigation data and big gaps in operational compliance requirements, van Leeuwen said that as much as 70% of the products companies are paying for have not been used.

“We work with both large and small companies globally to provide specialist information and services that would not be cost-effective for them to self-build. Sometimes that information is integrated into bigger systems, mostly though it provides significant value stand-alone.”

GNS also offers companies to upload their own data sets into GNS’ system for additional insight and analysis in how their fleet is performing. That is helping fleet analytics to become more accessible across the entire market, not just the bigger companies.

However, as is often the case with new technology, many of the benefits of technology are still theoretical and have not yet filtered down into operational level, according to GNS.

“We are far enough along this journey to digital navigation for the captains and ship managers that we work with to be fully aware of the capabilities and the limitations of the systems they are using. Most people in the industry would agree about the importance and value of knowledge and experience and also about the important role of technology in enhancing those skills and enabling professional mariners and shipping company executives to achieve more.”

In a world striving for smart shipping, GNS said there is no doubt that things are going to get more integrated, more transparent and more efficient across all aspects of ship operations. There is also a trend towards decision-making moving away from the vessel to shore-based control centers.

“As things stand today, connectivity is possibly the biggest limiting factor in terms of autonomous vessels and it is difficult to predict how quickly that will be resolved to the level that would be necessary.”

Commenting on a scenario in which seafarers could be replaced by machines, van Leeuwen said that it is very unlikely that machines are going to be able to match humans in areas such as intuition and creativity any time soon.

“It is more likely that machines will augment what seafarers do rather than replace them completely in the near to medium term future – particularly in more unpredictable marine environments.”

Interview by: Jasmina Ovcina Mandra, Erna Penjic; Image Courtesy: Pixabay, GNS