Digital disruption or distraction?


A group of journalists on Monday sat aboard the ultra-modern hybrid ship Vision of the Fjords wearing Occulus Rift virtual reality headsets to watch a DNV GL presentation. While we definitely looked ridiculous to others in the room watching us react as we landed on virtual ships and flew over fake fjords, it certainly beat a slideshow.


As DNV GL outlined its concept for digitalisation, however, I could not help moving my head around to see what lurked around the virtual corner. Would the scenery continue or would the digital fjord suddenly turn into bunch of ones and zeros? It hammered home not just the promise of technology, but how much of a distraction it can be too.


Shipping has inevitably become much more digitally connected, with vital systems such as ECDIS improving navigation, while more sensors and autonomous systems are making their way slowly on  board.


To reflect this digital transformation, technology is playing a big part at this year’s Nor-Shipping, with exhibitors expounding the benefits of their innovative products, from Videotel’s virtual reality training for marine engineers to Martek Marine’s collision-resistant inspection drones.


Talks on the benefits of big data analysis have dominated the first couple of days, while Ronald Spithout from Inmarsat told Safety at Sea that vessels will adopt the Internet of Things (kit hooked up to the internet that previously would not be, like an engine or your fridge) “in a massive way”.


Meanwhile, as connected devices pump out ever more data from ship to shore, there is the promise that analysing it will make improvements to fleet performance and avoid costly maintenance and safety issues. We are all ploughing ahead mercilessly into shipping 4.0 and the opportunities can seem both exciting and overwhelming. Sasan Mameghani, founder of digital start-up MainDeck, told Safety at Sea that he is tired of all the talk of potential and promise of big data and urged that the shipping industry starts doing and creating and collaborating instead, or miss out on the real, concrete benefits of big data.


But how do shipowners sift through the glitzy promises to find the technology that offers solid improvements to performance and safety? It’s something that we all have to navigate in our daily lives, with the new iPhone that promised so much turning out much like your old one – just in a slightly smaller, shinier case.


My advice is to be focused and considered. Think about what it is you really need and what it is you want to improve on your vessels. Then sift through the jargon and the promises to analyse, as best you can, the real, concrete benefits of a product or service to you.


Technology is both a great facilitator, a great disruptor (as Nor-Shipping will attest), and a great distractor (as any teenager with a smartphone will prove), so choose wisely. 


Contact: Tanya Blake or follow her on twitter @tanya_blake 

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