By Lin Zongkai and Talia Tan
On 22 August 2022, Advisory, in conjunction with Singapore Maritime Foundation, hosted SMF: Riding the Digital Wave. The 90-minute panel discussion-styled session provided attendees with insights into the workings and culture of the maritime industry, and how it has transformed through digitalisation and technology advancements. The panellists, who represent a wide range of perspectives in the industry, comprised:
- David Lee (moderator), Senior Manager, Corporate Communications & Development and Maritime Singapore Connect Office, Singapore Maritime Foundation
- Christopher Saunders, Chief Product Officer, Rightship
- Siddarth Ravinder, Head of Continuous Improvement, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, A.P. Møller-Mærsk
- Ken Wong, Assistant Vice President (Group Platform Solutions & Marketing), PSA International Pte Ltd
One critical aspect of maritime work is port operation. Ports play a key role in supply chains as keynotes. As port operators, some of the key areas of work include continuously improving industry practices, and developing improvements and collaborating with stakeholders to allow cargo owners to have better functioning supply chains. Currently, the maritime industry is also integrating digital solutions into port operations to create agile, resilient and sustainable supply chains.
Another essential part of maritime work is managing container logistics. Global trade meets each individual’s needs, providing them with daily supplies whenever they need them. Logistics ensures that this extensive system continues to run smoothly. To do so, the industry must also be able to solve critical problems for customers by standardising processes, automating business practices, and bringing in emergent technologies to add value.
Finally, ensuring a maritime industry that causes zero harm is vital. This includes protecting the safety of marine life, minimising harm to the environment by reducing emissions from shipping activity, and protecting the well-being of seafarers.
There has been a great transformation in terms of technology onboard vessels. One of the big catalysts of digital transformation in maritime was the availability of satellite communications at sea. Speed, coverage and affordability improved rapidly. This unlocked new potential to access, collect and generate data, and subsequent opportunities to optimise processes and add value to business operations.
When dealing with data, several concerns and challenges emerge — for example, ensuring that data collected is reliable and trustworthy, and developing safe ways to store and share data
Lots of data across the industry is currently sitting unconsolidated. In order to enable change and transformation, it’s important to develop a common language or method to make full use of the data that is available.
Technology has also brought about improvements in safety. As new technology came onboard, conventional tools like sextons were replaced by radar. Supplementary tech for avoiding collisions with other vessels, such as cameras that scan the horizon, aid the decision-making processes of naval officers. Automation has also enabled greater levels of safety. In Tuas, ports are running automated guided vehicles. In Pasir Panjang, the use of automated yard cranes has enabled a safer environment with less direct interaction between man and machine. Instead, workers sit in a control centre doing troubleshooting remotely. The enhanced safety of operations has led to greater efficiency.
The use of technology has also accelerated productivity. This is especially relevant in container positioning and planning, where the stability of the vessel was previously manually calculated but is now calculated with the use of tech, facilitating the faster movement of cargo.
Given Singapore’s status as a transnational hub, dealing with a larger volume of vessels and containers — as many as sixty to eighty ships at a time — would not be feasible without the enabling influence of tech. The coming years are going to be really exciting, with lots of opportunities for growth.
Digitalisation is a major driver of the maritime industry, and the pace of change in maritime is really accelerating. But it is important to first identify critical problems that need to be solved within the organisation, then to evaluate what kinds of technology will help address these issues. Many companies adopt the approach where they choose a technology which they like, then attempt to figure out how to integrate it into their processes. However, adopting new technology is often a costly investment, and ensuring that your investments add relevant value is essential.
One example of a critical problem addressed by technology would be tracking containers on land. With a vessel schedule, tracking containers on sea is relatively easier. But once the containers have been unloaded, they are transported to multiple locations by about a hundred trucks. Putting sensors in each container would become impossible to manage. Through experimentation, an optimal solution was identified. Partnerships with fleet owners and the transmission of fleet GPS data allowed customers to track their packages on land, close to real-time.
Another application of technology can be found in warehouse environments. It can be difficult to generate meaningful data in warehouse environments, since the movement of cargo is primarily done without the use of digital tools and individual records. A digital twin of the warehouse was created with the strategic placement of sensors. Analysts took this information to figure out how to optimise use of existing resources and processes.
Of course not! The maritime industry has learnt to bring people into itself with the right training; every individual has different strengths, and it is through everyone coming from different backgrounds that the best ideas emerge. Even those with technology-related degrees may spend years working on non-technology-related matters, such as communications, human resource and commercial issues. Therefore, there will be organisations willing to take someone who does not bring along a maritime-related degree, so do not worry about that. What one should bring is passion, awareness of strengths and subsequently where they can be applied in this industry. That will help bring a different perspective, and even bring about changes in the industry.
Furthermore, degrees like political science may be more relevant than you might think. It was not always like this, but unfortunately, geopolitics have become increasingly intertwined with business, and there is no business like maritime which is caught in it. Maritime operates in China, the US, or wherever the customers are, but due to geopolitical tensions, some companies are caught in the crosswinds. Having people who are aware, and are passionate about geopolitics for example, and are able to advise companies on government affairs – you may be amazed just how many people companies hire for government affairs today – as they need someone to advise on the current geopolitical risks. For companies, risk management is critical, and includes what they should be aware of and with whom relationships should be cultivated. Someone from political science would thus be rather valuable in the maritime industry.
The maritime industry is unique. Not many come face to face with it on a daily basis, and so very little is known about it. Though it tends to work behind the scenes, it has most recently come to the forefront. It’s an exciting industry to be part of, full of challenges, change and transformation. As the industry evolves, a clear need for tech talent has been established. There are many opportunities in maritime, especially in tech, ranging from data to application development to product management.
There is no definite path to take to enter specific roles. We do encourage those without prior background or a related degree to enter the industry since new joiners can easily be trained and brought up to speed. In fact, having no prior background can help you bring a fresh outlook to things. As long as you are curious, persistent, and willing to try something new, the maritime industry can be a place for you.
Nowadays there is a very great mix of individuals working at sea – some who started their careers in the 1980s, but the demands of shipping, operations, technology and processes, requirements, and regulations have massively changed, so there is quite a blend of cultures in that environment. On shore, it might be a little easier in what is dealt with, but on ships there is a powerful and exciting culture building, comprising veteran ex-mariners, but also new individuals coming in from outside the industry who are really excited and empowered to make change. That purpose-driven approach to work, in terms of trying to affect an industry, is quite different for maritime, and makes it a very exciting and rewarding place to work.
Not a lot of careers and industries can offer you that working dynamic, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic with the hybrid office culture, and most companies are adopting flexible approaches as a result. That has worked very well considering the global nature of the industry, operating across time zones, by providing flexibility in work. All in all, maritime has a vibrant environment across the world and is an exciting place to work.
There is a perception, which is a myth now but was perhaps true a few years ago, that maritime as an industry is male-driven. But nowadays there is a conscious lookout to ensure there is no bias. In fact, there are situations in the industry where male employees are outnumbered by female employees. At the board level of some maritime firms, there is also equal representation in terms of gender, and some of the key decision-makers are female. Today, gender could be a boundary or curtain that makes females less willing to enter an industry because of a lack of respect for decisions or opportunities, but in reality, those situations do not exist anymore.
Gender is a pertinent issue in the industry, and many CEOs make a conscious effort to recruit females into the ranks and more of them into management. The industry is changing in the sense that more females are choosing to pursue a career at sea, and organisations are offering many opportunities to people across the globe and of different genders. But it will definitely take time in shipping for the bias to entirely disappear, but nowadays it is not hard to find teams in the industry pushing 40-50% female composition. Female employees are most certainly welcome for the value they bring, and the idea that the industry is not welcoming to them is definitely a myth that can be busted!