How technology can help shipping companies address key challenges in 2021

Alexander Buchmann, managing director at Hanseaticsoft, explains how the maritime industry can use technology – particularly cloud services – to adapt to another difficult year.

One year on from the start of the pandemic and the world is still battling Covid-19. The vaccine offers hope that life can return to normality in the future, but for now, the shipping industry faces many challenges. 

One challenge is remote working. Lockdowns and restrictions forced many businesses to close offices and move their workforce to home working. Shipping companies also sent shore-based teams to work from home where possible, but with varying success. 

Those with the right online tools and access to the cloud could already access data and information from any location and work. However, for others, this highlighted huge technology gaps. Companies reliant on using paper-based systems and outdated technology realised they could not function and needed to change. 

As a result, in the past year, we have been approached by many companies looking to move their businesses into the cloud. Increasingly, companies have recognised the need for a connected workforce to ensure the easy exchange of data between crews at sea and teams working remotely. 

Effective communications and collaboration between teams became a priority, as well as the necessity to streamline processes, drive down costs and improve efficiencies. This is a trend we expect to continue into 2021 and beyond.

Hanseaticsoft managing director Alexander Buchmann

Accelerating digitalisation in shipping

A study last year highlighted that when companies digitalise their processes, they increase performance, innovate and create more value. It also said that digitalisation needs to be on the agenda for shipping companies, because ‘competitors are doing it’ and there is a need to ‘future-proof’ business.

In some parts of the world, governments have intervened to accelerate digitisation in shipping. A recent survey from Australian telco Telstra, amongst 120 business leaders across four continents, found almost two-thirds of respondents believed Covid-19 had changed their organisations forever.

In a recent survey, almost two-thirds of respondents believed Covid-19 had changed their organisations forever.

It also showed technology will be a key driver in their businesses in the future. 93% said they were accelerating the adoption of cloud services, while 97% of respondents in Europe and North Asia saw the cloud as ‘the only option’. 

In line with these findings and to manage the current situation, the Singapore Government has launched various initiatives and grants to help companies grow and transform across industries, including shipping.

Using technology to support mental health challenges

The pandemic has affected people’s mental wellbeing, but for shipping companies, this has been brought sharply into focus because of the humanitarian crisis that left thousands of seafarers stranded at sea for months.  

In September, the International Maritime Organisation reported that some 400,000 crew members were trapped at sea and continuing to work. Companies couldn't change crews as many governments banned crews from coming ashore amid Covid-19 fears. 

The impact on seafarers’ mental wellbeing has been significant, with the Seafarers Happiness Index (SHI) last year showing that the seafarer community is enduring a mental health crisis due to the impact of the first Covid-19 lockdown. This is something companies will need to address in 2021.

For those stranded at sea, technology can be a lifeline.

For those stranded at sea, technology can be a lifeline enabling them to keep in touch with family, friends, and colleagues onshore, and it can support mental health. Allowing personal internet access so seafarers can send emails or do video calls is something shipping companies are recognising is a way to tackle mental health issues. 

As we move through this crisis, mental health support will be increasingly on the agenda for shipping companies and providing good internet access is something that we expect will increase. 

A Lloyd’s List report, ‘Digitalisation Uncovered’, recently acknowledged that Covid-19 has prompted a significant increase in the use of video-based connectivity by crew, for social and welfare reasons, and it is highly likely that crew welfare issues will be a top-three driver for digital adoption in the future.

Benefits of moving into the cloud in 2021

Many shipping companies are turning to cloud technology to meet ongoing challenges. A key benefit is the real-time sharing of information and data. With data accessible in one central place, people no longer work in silos and can communicate and collaborate easily with colleagues, transforming how a business operates no matter where they are located.

This means that business-critical information, such as important maritime instructions, crew schedules, payroll data and other key communications can be shared by the team onshore with the crews and it can be actioned immediately, ensuring the company is responsive and dynamic and can react to any situation. 

Having advanced technology that facilitates good communications is not only a must for their seafarers, but it can support the safety of their vessels and crews and enable the effective management of their operations. 

This can also improve safety operations. For example, sending out a fire drill procedure can be done in one click to all the vessels that need it. This speeds up communications and saves fleet managers manually sending instructions or checking if all vessels have received them.

Data analytics improve vessel and business performance.

Crew management and administration is another area that benefits from cloud computing. Using software, ship managers can plan their crews, manage all their work documentation and visas, and schedule their working and rest hours in line with regulations. They can also request relief for crews on board.

Data analytics is another benefit of using the cloud which can improve vessel and business performance. Having access to the right data is incredibly powerful for ship managers but can be an ongoing challenge.

Data needs to be managed efficiently and analysed in a structured way so that businesses can clearly interpret it to make insight-driven decisions to achieve their goals and objectives.

We’ve recently integrated Microsoft’s Power BI into our cloud-based fleet management system, to offer shipping companies and ship managers enhanced insights into their operational data and drive a data culture across the organisation that will improve business decision making.

The future of technology in shipping

In the past year, technology adoption in shipping has moved on apace. Companies that take advantage of cloud technology can automate many operational tasks and make it easier for the ship managers and crew to work. 

Business processes such as payroll, scheduling and management of maintenance tasks can now all be done on board and using the data and analytics, companies can gain valuable insights to enhance performance. 

As well as overcoming many of the challenges brought about by the pandemic, technology is enabling shipping companies to address operational challenges that already existed. The pandemic has sped up their digital transformation, which is having a powerful effect on how they operate now and in the future.