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Kristin Helen Andersen, VP of IT at G2 Ocean, together with Leif Arne Strømmen, G2 Ocean’s VP of Innovation.
“Shipping companies can succeed in a new, digital world. To do so, they must look outside of their own industry.”
The global shipping industry has so far been slow to adopt new trends.
While other industries are offering services in the cloud, the maritime sector still relies on “wet ink and wet stamps” to send cargo across the world.
However, some in the industry are now waking up to the need for change.
Digitalize or die
“The shipping industry is facing a life or death situation,” explains Kristin Helen Andersen, Vice President of IT at G2 Ocean.
Andersen explains that companies are increasingly dealing with customers who have grown up in an online world.
These born-digital buyers are used to having information right at their fingertips. If the shipping sector can’t deliver this, then it will lose ground to those who can.
Together with their owners in Gearbulk and Grieg Star, G2 Ocean has established a joint IT department, UnITy, gathering their forces in modernising their digital journey.
The three companies are describing the development as “Norway’s largest shipping IT hub”.
The global shipping industry is heading for greater digitalization. Photo © G2 Ocean.
An ocean of data
The new IT hub will work on a number of areas – but one of the most crucial tasks will be making better use of the group’s oceans of data.
According to Leif Arne Strømmen, G2 Ocean’s VP of Innovation, today’s customers are keen to know where their shipment is at all times, and when it will depart and arrive, using available live data combined with predictive analytics.
With the support of UnITy, the company will develop a digital customer platform for automation of manual processes, and create real‑time visibility of the shipping process including cargo tracking and performance reports.
As Strømmen explains, “The shipping industry has not focused enough on providing this type of information for customers.”
“If we’re going to win the digital race, we need to be much more transparent and develop value‑added services for customer sharing and using our available data.”
Towards new horizons
Strømmen predicts that there are other changes on the horizon for the shipping industry.
This includes the adoption of drones to inspect ships, as well as a greater use of sensors (Internet of Things) to monitoring performance, both onboard the ships and on all breakbulk cargo.
For example, future ships will be fitted with networks of sensors that send information back to control rooms on land, and cargo will be fitted with sensors monitoring location, temperature, humidity and movement at all times in the supply chain.
Blockchain technology and smart contracts will fully digitalize manual processes related to the distribution of Bill of Lading, Letter of Credit as well Freight Agreements.
Eventually, we may even see the introduction of autonomous ships on the high seas, together with much greater automation on the port side and for loading and discharging of ships.
The shipping industry could see much greater automation of manual tasks in future. Photo © G2 Ocean.
There are, however, some challenges to be faced on the path to greater digitalization.
Andersen explains that in order for UnITy to be a success, one of the key tasks will be to get other employees on board with the group’s new direction.
She believes that the IT function in any organization needs to act as the “standard bearer” for new ways of working.
“Rather than just helping people with their laptops and phones, we need to go forward into the business and advise on how we can build new solutions.”
She also adds that the industry needs to get better at looking outwards, rather than inwards.
“There are many IT challenges that have already been solved in other sectors. We need to get better at seeing what has worked outside of the shipping world.”
The coming years will be a voyage of discovery for maritime firms. It’s safe to say that these three Norwegian companies are already well underway.
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