Digital shipping: the data-driven future of the maritime industry

Nicholas Belle discusses best practices for ship and shoreside technology infrastructure

Digital shipping: the data-driven future of the maritime industry
More effective use of data could help passenger shipping companies make more informed decisions, says Nicholas Belle

By Alex Smith |

According to the A Changed World report by consultancy firm Thetius, the digital maritime industry is set to be worth up to $345 billion by 2030.  

There has been a seismic shift in digital transformation projects following the pandemic, as shipowners and operators have been pushed to keep up with the latest advances or get left behind. New technology is presenting both challenges and a plethora of opportunities for the passenger shipping sector, and new technology now forms a central part of operators’ plans for the future. 

One of the causes for this shift is the dramatically increasing amount of data available to operators about their customers and infrastructure. This creates significant opportunities for obtaining new and powerful insights that could help optimise every aspect of a businesses operation. However, managing this data effectively can be a significant challenge, explains Nicholas Belle, founder of Abelle Consulting. 

“Data is at the heart of an operation, and a key driver for business success,” says Belle. “However, managing data in an enterprise environment can be highly complex. As new data technologies become available, the burden of legacy systems and data silos grows, unless they can be integrated or ring-fenced. Traditional data operation models like data warehouses do not lend themselves well to a data-driven culture, as they can be too slow and inflexible in responding to business demands. Data lakes, on the other hand, are unusable for all but the most data-literate in an organisation. Modern cloud architectures have eased some of the complexities but have introduced concerns around data access and privacy in different legal jurisdictions.” 

According to Belle, a perception of limited innovation from the supply sector in recent years has led to businesses in the maritime industry developing their own solutions. 

“Over the past decade, the negative perception has forced maritime companies to adopt a ‘build not buy’ strategy, primarily to address their own specific needs,” says Belle. “Modern software development approaches such as DevOps, microservices architecture, agile methodology and cloud platforms have sped up time to market for new solutions, thereby making this possible. With the huge global demand for IT resource, the main challenge now is about keeping the show on the road while being mindful of the competitive marketplace.” 

Belle points to the customer experience as another area that could be improved with more effective use of technology, helping deliver a good service from the moment a guest books their journey. 

“Customer perception of your business starts from the moment they decide to book all the way through to their final destination,” says Belle. “There are a lot of insights to be gathered from the aviation sector, where a mindset of continuously reducing friction is the norm. For example, there is a plan at several US airports to use facial recognition technology to make identification documents (ID) obsolete. Imagine a port experience where you go from entry to boarding and then exit without physically showing any ID or needing to slow down.” 

In order to overcome the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities posed by technological innovation, maritime companies will need to embrace the capabilities it offers and build it in to every aspect of their decision-making process. 

“Adopting data-driven decision-making is a crucial step in helping businesses address the challenges they face,” says Belle. “By leveraging digital insights within your business and embracing business intelligence you can make more informed decisions, leading to commercial growth, better products and services and a more efficient business.” 

Belle recommends that companies deploy a federated data model, allowing for transparency throughout their organisation about who is using data and why. 

“A data mesh platform provides a federated model of ownership, with different teams of domain experts both inside and outside of your organisation able to maintain control over their own data sets and make them available to other teams as data products,” says Belle. “To support federated governance, data lineage is implemented to provide a full audit of all transformations the data has undergone along the way, including how the data was changed, what was amended, by whom and why. 

“Data sovereignty is another pillar in the federated data model. It builds upon the limitations of in-cloud data lakes mentioned earlier and applies rules that stipulate that data is subject to the laws and governance structures of the jurisdiction where they are collected.” 

Another option for businesses in the maritime sector is rapid application development platforms, which allow companies to quickly react to changing circumstances.  

“The disruption caused by the pandemic demonstrated the importance of flexibility,” says Belle. “Emerging technology trends such as low-code/no-code platforms and hyperautomation will further support this by empowering staff to develop and use their own business-critical composable applications.” 

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2023 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. Subscribe to Cruise & Ferry Review for FREE here to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox or your door. 

Contact author


Subscribe to the Cruise & Ferry newsletter

  • ©2024 Tudor Rose. All Rights Reserved. Cruise & Ferry is published by Tudor Rose.