Driving digital transformation at sea with IoT

Wireless Maritime Services' CEO discusses the potential of wireless connectivity

Driving digital transformation at sea with IoT
Wireless technology can enable cruise lines to transform guest experiences

By Pramod Arora |

This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2019 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

Cruise line chief information officers are pursuing internet of things (IoT) solutions at different levels. While the allure of creating a better passenger experience by reducing friction, personalising travel or generating more onboard revenue is appealing, the ability to prove the return on investment has not been as straightforward.

Indications show that passengers love being able to use location technology to enter their stateroom with little effort. Cruise lines like the efficiencies this technology creates when it comes to letting crew members know if they can enter a passenger room for servicing. However, this requires systems that operate in a standalone environment to talk with other systems to deliver specific use cases. This integration of disparate systems may seem to be cost-prohibitive to creating growth opportunities and choosing a path to make these connections work can be complex. However, Wireless Maritime Services (WMS) is driving transformational projects in the maritime industry, and with our partners, we can create environments to connect systems and integration paths to allow cruise lines to implement IoT use cases. WMS has already deployed IoT asset tracking solutions for maritime, connecting people, things and data with a seamless experience that can enable digital transformation initiatives.

Global spending in IoT, business intelligence, artificial intelligence and augmented/virtual reality is forecasted to reach almost reach US$1 trillion in 2019. Cruise lines are betting on digital technology to transform their business by creating better apps, implementing wearable technology or standing up microservices from legacy systems to improve operations. While digital can be viewed by many through their lens of speciality – such as networking, software, applications or business insights – the fact remains that the digital experience is created by a stack of technologies working in harmony to meet a specific use case. For cruise lines, use cases can be summarised into three broad categories: guest and crew experiences, marine operations and safety, and environmental sustainability.

Over the past few years, cruise lines have invested heavily in technologies to improve the guest and crew experience. These include mobile applications before and during cruises, technologies to expedite embarkation such as facial recognition, and onboard location services to allow guests to order food and beverages. These use cases require a full stack of networking, software, applications and business insights to drive user experiences to the ‘transformational’ cruise that passengers are now expecting. To deliver these experiences cruise lines must tackle the challenges of building technologies that are future-proof, or augment legacy systems with new technology to deliver step-change performance. WMS can create cellular, wi-fi, near-field communication (NFC), Bluetooth and other wireless networks to support IoT initiatives, with partners managing devices to provide data and business insights on centralised platforms and drive digital transformation.

Marine operations and safety are two areas of passenger shipping that are ready for digital transformation and automation. One study cites over 75% of maritime accidents are caused by human error, creating an opportunity to automate tasks to minimise incidents. In addition, studies indicate that automation could reduce the high costs associated with crew hours and fuel.

Today, when systems are added they are monitored as a separate entity, rather than as part of a comprehensive digital platform, which may end up as another screen to the engine control room. This may not be very efficient. WMS, along with our partners, can wirelessly enable the engine room and other areas to bring automation capabilities to legacy systems and present data through a single platform as microservices to streamline how data is presented and decisions are made. For example, today’s oil mist sensors collect data that is stored on a USB drive and then mailed offsite for analysis to determine if there is potential for an engine incident. WMS can enable wireless capabilities to these, and other similar sensors, to transmit data through the same network installed on a cruise ship to further automate this process and shorten time for analysis.

The last area where significant opportunities exist to transform cruising is environmental sustainability. Cruise lines have invested significantly in systems to improve energy efficiency, route planning and waste management, including investing in new technologies and cleaner fuels to reduce carbon dioxide. Sustainability initiatives must be managed and monitored to ensure that environmental impact is being realised.

Logbooks should be replaced with automated digital platforms and systems, which should be wirelessly enabled to reduce infrastructure costs to speed time to market. WMS has developed deployable vessel networks for the shipping market that can be set up in less than six hours to monitor refrigerated containers being transported at sea. These wireless systems have the potential to detect cargo incidents or temperature variations, reduce cargo waste and improve crew safety. For cruise lines, WMS can establish a wireless network, or augment existing networks, and connect systems to a single platform to monitor all sustainability initiatives. This could be used for measuring food waste, water, recycled materials, energy use or fuel exhaust emissions.

Several cruise lines are eliminating single-use plastics by providing guests reusable water bottles. While this will help reduce plastics, cruise lines could take this a step further by integrating radio-frequency identification and LED technology into the water bottles to drive an enhanced passenger experience based upon behaviour. For example, passengers that elect to not have their stateroom cleaned for a day could be entitled to one premium beverage. An LED light embedded in the bottle cap would illuminate a different colour as an indicator of their reward and fulfilled by onboard beverage staff. Once the beverage has been dispensed into the bottle, then the light changes back to the default colour.

Wireless networks are driven by use cases and the end devices that use the technology whether an NFC device used to track passenger location via wearable device, a wireless point-of-sale terminal that uses wi-fi, or a stateroom door lock that uses Bluetooth. When pairing wireless networks and devices, they can be put into four groups: near-field/narrowband; near-field/broadband; wide-area/narrowband; and wide-area/broadband. Creating a wireless environment to support all these technologies with minimal interference is WMS’s core competency, and with our partners, we can tie these networks to platforms that orchestrate the management of devices, data and business intelligence systems.

Wireless connectivity is central to digital transformation as it enables use cases to deliver transformational guest experiences, improve safety for all through automation and lessen the impact cruising has on the environment. Many use cases today are proven; location services for passengers is a killer app, and the good news is costs to deliver services have come down versus a few years ago. Partnering with a leader in wireless connectivity like WMS can deliver the wireless networks needed to support your use cases and platforms enabling management of devices, data and business intelligence in a one-stop shop to take your digital transformation initiatives from concept to reality.

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