Last year, satcom specialist IEC Telecom highlighted that demand for digital technology had risen tenfold as maritime businesses embraced new ways of working during the coronavirus pandemic inspiring a technology revolution. But why has it taken a pandemic to change attitudes to technology?
2020 was the year where remote working became the norm. Lockdowns and restrictions forced many businesses to close offices and move their workforce to home working. Shipping companies sent shore-based teams to work from home where possible. However, this highlighted some huge technology gaps. Those that had the right online tools and access to the cloud already could access data and information from any location and continue work. Others though, still reliant on paper-based systems and outdated technology realized they couldn’t function effectively in this new remote world, and something needed to change.
For many this prompted investment in technology and moving their business into the cloud for the first time. A recent report from Lloyd’s List and Inmarsat, “Digitalization Uncovered” looked at insights from ship owners and ship managers in this period of transition.
They found that the primary drivers towards the technology revolution were cost reduction and operational efficiencies, followed by regulatory compliance. The findings also pointed to a rapidly increasing need to get data off a vessel in real-time, as opposed to using more manual methods.
Another recent survey from Australian telco Telstra with more than 120 business leaders across four continents, found almost two thirds of respondents believed COVID-19 had changed their organizations forever.
It showed that technology will be a key driver in their businesses in the future. Of those, 93% said they were accelerating the adoption of cloud services, while 97% of respondents in Europe and North Asia saw cloud as “the only option.”
Interestingly, the Singapore government has already launched various initiatives and grants to help companies grow and transform across industries, including shipping.
But there is also the human impact of the pandemic that is boosting technology uptake. Mental health has been put in the spotlight because of COVID-19. It’s been widely reported that lockdowns and restrictions have had a negative impact on people’s mental wellbeing.
For seafarers stranded at sea for months because it was impossible for companies to change crews as governments banned crews from coming ashore amid COVID-19 fears the isolation has taken its toll.
In July last year, the Seafarers Happiness Index (SHI) published by the Mission to Seafarers highlighted that the mental health of seafarers was at “tipping point.” With no clear end in sight of when the pandemic may be over, the mental health fallout is something shipping companies and wider society will need to address in 2021.
Once again technology can offer a solution. Providing personal internet access as a way to keep in touch with people can be a lifeline for seafarers at sea for months. Being able to send emails or do video calls is something that more shipping companies are recognizing is a way to tackle mental health issues.
Not only can crews stay connected to the outside world, they can access mental health support or medical advice using apps, as well as connect with groups and organizations. We expect that providing good internet access will be more of a priority for shipping companies going forward.
Indeed, the Lloyd’s List report showed that COVID-19 prompted a significant increase in the use of video-based connectivity by crew, for social and welfare reasons, and say it is highly likely that crew welfare issues will be a top three driver for digital adoption in the future.
Finally, the ongoing challenge of getting data off ships in real-time has been helped by cloud technology. Data is the next big thing in most industries, including shipping. Access to and interpretation of data to improve processes is vital. The cloud has facilitated the sharing of information and data with access in one central place no matter where crew are based.
Business critical information such as important maritime instructions, crew schedules, payroll data and other key communications can now be shared by teams onshore with the crews and it can be actioned immediately, ensuring the company is responsive and dynamic and can react to any situation.
The journey to digitalization has sped up because of the pandemic and changed the way shipping companies work forever. In the words of Ronald Spithout, Inmarsat Maritime President in his article in the Lloyds List report “developments in wider society mean there is no going back for the maritime industries’ digital revolution.”
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