For centuries, the maritime industry has been vital to international trade and the global economy. However, the world moves on, and the cutting-edge tech of 1923 is inadequate for the world of 2023. Today’s maritime companies face increasing competition and regulations, changing safety and security risks, and operational inefficiency. To keep up, the industry must embrace digital transformation, and adapt to the new technological landscape.
Automation technologies streamline operations and free-up people to carry out the tasks that only humans can do. Process automation is one group of these technologies. There are several types of process automation, including robotic process automation (RPA), business process automation (BPA) and digital process automation (DPA). This article focusses on BPA.
What is business process automation (BPA)?
BPA optimises processes, then automates complex and multi-step business processes, from beginning to end. It automatically initiates the next step in a business process once the previous one is completed. Unlike RPA, BPA integrates multiple enterprise applications and systems. In this case, removing intervention reduces the risks of personal workarounds and unauthorised changes. Using BPA, organisations can automate core functions such as logistics, finance, procurement, human resources, and customer service.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of BPA in maritime?
BPA adoption is a step towards digital transformation, offering improved accuracy, efficiency, and dependability of automated processes. By integrating data streams from sensors with other information sources, BPA can enable better decision making, monitoring, quality assurance and verification, leading to numerous benefits.
By eliminating manual errors, delays and redundancies, BPA can reduce operational costs such as fuel, maintenance and administration. Using BPA to automate invoicing and payments, for example, can reduce paper documents and cut down on the time and effort needed for human verification.
BPA efficiency can increase productivity and competitiveness by optimising the use of resources and assets. One example would be vessel scheduling and routing, to increase the speed and quality of service while optimising fuel consumption. This can contribute to emission reductions and improved environmental sustainability.
BPA’s ability to optimise systems can reduce the industry’s environmental impact in other ways, such as automating the optimisation of power systems and energy-efficient solutions. In addition, it can improve safety and security: an automated detection and initial response to emergencies such as fires or collisions could save lives.
However, no technology is perfect, and BPA is no exception. BPA can require a significant investment in time, money and resources to set up and maintain, and the systems’ complexity can pose technical challenges and risks.
As with all automation, BPA is better suited to standardised ways of doing things; humans are far more suited to managing situations that require flexible thinking and improvisation. This can be an advantage, as BPA can automate routine and tedious tasks such as reporting and documentation, freeing-up staff to handle more interesting non-routine situations, while BPA supports their decision-making by providing them with easy access to real-time data. Nevertheless, overly rigid systems can stifle the creative thinking required for people handling novel situations.
In addition, while improving speed and accuracy of service delivery, BPA can reduce direct customer interaction. While this is often positive, it may affect the perceived quality of of service and customer satisfaction, as well as impacting the organisation culture and values.
How can the maritime industry use BPA?
BPA is evolving, but is already used across the industry. E-navigation and port community systems are a few current and developing uses of BPA.
E-navigation aims to harmonise and integrate data and communication between ships and shore. Once in place, it will automate information exchange, including positions, identities, etc. between vessels and shore stations, as well as navigation and collision avoidance systems.
Port community systems are inter-organisational systems that can automate coordination and management of port operations, such as customs and immigration clearance, and terminal operations. They use BPA to electronically integrate data, technologies, systems, processes, and standards within the port community.
BPA is not a distant concept for science fiction novels: it is an ongoing trend that is already transforming the industry. It can streamline and automate complex and multi-step processes, such as logistics, finance and customer service, while integrating data from multiple sources. This can reduce operational costs, increase safety, security and sustainability while making organisations more competitive.
Disadvantages such as the high up-front cost, complexity, and lack of flexibility mean that it is not the right solution for every situation; however, it can help organisations to support staff, empower decision-making, and help the maritime industry to achieve its goals.