Implementing technology a minor part of shipping’s digital transformation

Implementing technology a minor part of shipping’s digital transformation

Failure to achieve a successful digital transformation can be the result of relying too much on technology and not investing enough in people and organisational change, says Anthony Veder’s digital development manager, Sifra Westendorp.

Speaking at Digital Ship’s maritime forum in Rotterdam yesterday, Ms Westendorp told delegates that she sees many companies focussing on how they can use technology to digitalise their operations, forgetting that a successful digital transformation is about so much more than just technology. “It is about organisational change. It’s about choosing the right areas to focus on, selecting the right opportunities and solutions. It’s about people, and people are difficult. It’s about adopting a change successfully within your organisation.”

As many in the shipping industry start to embark on their digital transformation, they hope to achieve more cost and fuel efficient voyages, safer operations, and overall greater business efficiency. Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning, virtual reality (VR) are some solutions being increasingly explored as part of the industry’s journey to achieve safer and more efficient operations.

However, Ms Westendorp, whose role is to help the shipowner and operator achieve a successful digital transformation, told the Digital Ship forum that there is a whole process that must come before integrating such solutions into their business.  The first step is to build the digital capabilities by identifying where to focus the digitalisation and determining where the right opportunities lie. “A strategy can be set by looking at the world around us,” Ms Westendorp said. “What are the hot topics? Which emerging technologies do you see that could add value to your company?”

 Sifra Westendorp, digital development manager at Anthony Veder speaking at Digital Ship’s forum in Rotterdam this week

There are many tools and platforms that claim to solve different problems but is it critical for the shipowner or operator purchasing the technology to understand exactly what their problem is and how this technology will make it better. “There is no use in installing a technology because it is cool idea,” she said. “You have to select the technology based on its feasibility, desirability and viability.” She went on to say that, “If the problem is urgent then you can use the technology to help solve the problem but don’t just install the technology because it has solved someone else’s problem.”

Once the problem is identified, a strategy is set and the technology to help solve that problem is in place, Ms Westendorp says that you still have to make sure the technology is well adapted into your organisation. This will ensure that it brings value and is sustainable. If the technology is not adopted well in the organisation, then the chance of its success is cut. Ongoing evaluations must be made to ensure that it is making incremental improvements. She warned that it is vital to continuously look at its success and how it performs beyond initial implementation.

The technology must also be used by the right people. People will change and adapt to using new technologies and their behaviours will change alongside this, so ongoing monitoring of the technology to see how it is making a difference to the company is essential. “You have to keep learning from others. This will help the maritime industry accelerate its industry transformation.”

Anthony Veder’s approach to a successful digital transformation first involves identifying its strategy based on the trends and topics discussed in the maritime world. The company then evaluates emerging technologies and decides which ones have the potential to add value to its operations.

In some examples highlighted by Ms Westendorp, she explained that Anthony Veder is currently doing a proof of concept to provide remote assistance to its fleet, using mixed reality to connect all the stakeholders that are involved in solving an incident. “We are also outfitting the vessel with sensors to reduce the administrative burden onboard of our vessel so that our seafarers don’t have to log all signals manually so they can focus on things that really matter.”

“We are also examining the technologies of image and sound recognition. We are looking at AI to manage all the knowledge in the company. We have so much knowledge, but it is scattered,” she explained. “We are also doing a project with the stakeholders of the ecosystem to exchange information so that we can reduce the waiting times for our vessels.”

Ms Westendorp also warned solution developers not to forget their end-users in the design process. “It’s a classic mistake,” she said. “You come up with an idea and you just start developing and then end up with something completely different.” She said that is it vital to include people from the business as early on as possible. “Keep on validating the things that you are working on and that those things are solving someone’s problems.”

“At Anthoy Veder we developed a tool that was needed and used an agile approach to validate. So, after every two weeks we validated that what we did was really meeting the expectations of the business and to see that it fit within the process of the business,” she explained.

When it comes to understanding the financial benefit of investing in a solution, Ms Westendorp said that it will not always be clear upfront what a new solution will bring financially to a company. “Of course, it is important to create a high-level business case, but if you focus too much on creating that solid business case, you are really going to kill your innovation.” At Anthony Veder, some of the projects do have a solid business case and we do calculate ROI, but we are also doing projects that are a little less strict and focus on things like customer satisfaction and productivity gain. These things are a little less tangible. You have to have a bit of a balance,” she concluded.