Data-driven operational efficiencies on existing ships will be necessary to achieve emissions cuts required to reach IMO targets, but a proliferation of new digital solutions in recent years has resulted in an “overwhelming” software selection market that is difficult to navigate for shipowners, according to Kongsberg Digital.
The number of ship software vendors has increased from around 170 in 2017, when Kongsberg first issued its annual overview of the maritime software landscape, to over 550 at last count, despite M&A transactions that have led to some consolidation in this market.
This has left shipowners with the enormous challenge of selecting from a bewildering array of different digital applications from multiple vendors in categories such as vessel performance monitoring, voyage management and optimisation, navigation, cargo and vessel tracking, port operations, logistics and procurement, and document handling.
Without benchmarking of different applications in relation to their operational benefits, there is a risk that shipowners can make poorly informed software decisions that can, paradoxically, compromise fleet efficiency gains they are trying to achieve from software intended to support decision-making.
“The software landscape can be very confusing for shipowners, given the overwhelming number of vendors out there, and they are really dependent on data scientists to assess the different solutions existing in the market,” said Kim Evanger, who leads maritime partnerships at Kongsberg Digital.
“They must, for example, determine whether to build on an existing legacy platform by adding cloud connectivity or overhaul their fleets with an entirely new digital platform that has greater flexibility to integrate with other solutions.”
Lloyd’s Register’s head of marketing for maritime performance services, Mark Warner, said: “Many shipowners and operators are still relative newcomers to the advantages digital transformation can bring”.
However, industry studies have shown that around 50 per cent of decarbonisation gains required to meet the IMO goal for a 50 per cent reduction in emissions by 2050 will have to come from operational efficiencies on existing ships, apart from new fuel technologies.
These efficiencies are expected to be driven by extant and evolving technologies that use data-driven artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to support decision-making in areas such as fuel consumption, engine efficiency, navigation, and preventive maintenance.
This has been backed up by the IMO’s Secretary-General, Kitack Lim, who said: “Increased data collection, processing, and interconnectivity capabilities enable automated systems to be controlled remotely or through artificial intelligence.
“Increased automation in shipping has the potential to enhance safety, to improve environmental performance, and to ensure more efficient and sustainable shipping.”
Shipowners are scrambling to expand digitalisation of their fleets to achieve fuel efficiencies for emissions cuts to comply with the IMO’s EEXI (Energy Efficiency Existing Ship Index) and CII (Carbon Intensity Indicator) measures due to come into force over the next two years.
In addition, the prospective implementation of the EU’s Emissions Trading System for shipping from 2023 poses the risk of financial penalties and possible detentions for pollutive vessels plying European waters, while there is also growing commercial pressure for green operations from cargo owners, consumers, and financial institutions.
Consequently, a raft of vendors has sprung up in recent years offering a vast number of software systems to cash in on the massive vessel market created by the decarbonisation drive.
The digitalisation trend has been fuelled by the Covid-19 pandemic due to the increased need for remote online working in areas such as crew training, pilotage and surveying, which resulted in average data consumption per vessel increasing from 3.4 to 9.8 gigabytes between January 2020 and March 2021, according to a recent study by UK-based research firm Thetius.
The global maritime digital products and services market was set to reach $159 billion last year – an increase of $24 billion, or 18 per cent, on pre-pandemic estimates – and is expected to more than double to $345 billion by 2030, up from a previous estimate of $279 billion, the study stated.