For centuries, the maritime industry has connected nations and moved goods and people across oceans. However, like every other sector, the digital revolution has transformed the industry. Rapid technological advancements have disrupted the traditional business models and created new opportunities for innovation and growth. From automated ports and vessels to real-time tracking and predictive maintenance, digital technologies are reshaping the landscape and presenting new challenges and opportunities. To remain competitive, efficient and sustainable, the maritime industry must adapt to the changing technological landscape; however, to do that we have to first understand what we’re talking about.
Digitisation has revolutionised the way we store, retrieve, and share information. By transforming analogue information or data into digital format, digitisation enables us to efficiently manage vast amounts of data, resulting in faster and more accurate analysis. We can capture images, record sounds, and transcribe text to convert a wide range of information into electronic files that we can store, retrieve, share, process and analyse using computers and digital devices.
Digitisation vs digitalisation
One example of digitisation is the process of scanning paper documents and converting them into digital files. This transformation of a physical entity into a digital one not only makes the documents more accessible but also helps to preserve them for future generations. With digitisation’s far-reaching implications and increasing prevalence across industries, it has become an essential aspect of modern-day operations that we cannot simply overlook.
The terms digitalisation and digitisation are often used interchangeably, but they describe two different concepts. While digitisation is the conversion of analog data into a digital format, digitalisation is a broader term that refers to the use of digital technology to transform business processes, products, and services. In this article, we explore the differences between digitalisation and digitisation, the impact of digitalisation on maritime businesses, and the advantages and disadvantages of digitalisation in the maritime industry.
Digitisation is the process of converting analog data into a digital format. In the maritime industry, this usually involves the use of technology to transform paper documents, images, audio, and video into electronic files. Digitisation is an important step towards digitalisation, as it enables maritime businesses to store and manage digital data.
In contrast, digitalisation is the use of digital technology to automate and optimise various aspects of business operations. In the maritime industry, this involves the integration of digital technologies into every aspect of the business, from cargo and logistics to safety and crewing. Digitalisation is a broader concept than digitisation, as it involves not only the conversion of analog data into digital format, but also the use of digital technology to transform the way maritime businesses operate.
By leveraging digital technology, businesses can improve their overall efficiency, reduce costs, and enhance their ability to compete in today’s fast-paced and ever-changing marketplace. In shipboard operations, digitalisation can play a critical role in ensuring the safe and efficient movement of goods and people across the seas. For example, a shipping company might use an inventory management system to automatically track and reorder critical supplies, such as fuel, spare parts, and provisions, to ensure that the ship is always properly equipped and prepared to face the ordinary perils of the sea.
The impact of digitalisation on maritime businesses
Digitalisation has had a profound impact on maritime businesses, allowing them to streamline processes, reduce costs, and improve safety and security. Here are some ways digitalisation has impacted the maritime industry:
Through digitalisation, maritime businesses can automate routine tasks. This reduces the time and resources needed to complete them and increases efficiency and productivity.
Digitalisation enables big data: the collection and analysis of massive amounts of data, providing insights that can improve maintenance, processes, safety, and security.
Safety and Security
Real-time monitoring of vessels, cargo and crew improves safety and security through improved situational awareness. In emergencies, the faster and more targeted response enabled by digitalisation can save lives and ships.
Digitalisation enables optimisation of routes and fuel consumption. Businesses that take advantage of digitalisation’s ability to optimise routes and reduce fuel consumption both reduce their environmental impact, and lower their fuel costs.
Pros and cons of maritime digitalisation
Digitalisation leads, almost inevitably, to automation. When businesses automate routine tasks, it reduces the amount of time and resources needed to complete them, leading to increased productivity and efficiency.
Improved safety and security
Digitalisation has improved safety and security in the maritime industry by enabling real-time monitoring of vessels, cargo, and crew. This has led to improved situational awareness and faster response times in the event of emergencies.
Cost savings & sustainability
If a business uses less paper documentation, then it saves money on storage, printing, shipping, and potentially even physical infrastructure, such as offices and warehouses. This reduces waste, leading to a more sustainable future.
In addition, as discussed above, route and fuel optimisation reduces the environmental impact of the voyage.
Training, design and maintenance
Digitalisation enables more effective training, familiarisation, design and maintenance through the use of digital twins, which can mirror existing infrastructure and equipment in a digital form for training, advanced simulations, extended reality (XR), or detailed maintenance planning.
Higher reliance on electronic systems increases the risk of cyber attacks, hacking, and other forms of cyber crime.
Digitalisation requires significant investments in hardware, software, and other infrastructure, which can be a barrier for smaller businesses.
To take advantage of digitalisation, employees must have technical skills and knowledge, which may require additional training, and therefore additional costs.
Dependence on technology
Businesses that depend on technology are vulnerable to system failures and disruptions.
Despite a few disadvantages, electronic technology is here to stay, and businesses must embrace it or fall behind. Fortunately, according to Remi Eriksen, CEO of DNV GL, shipowners can realise 30% opex savings from digitalisation. That 30% will certainly go a long way to encourage shipowners and other maritime businesses to embrace digitalisation.