Tag Archives: ECDIS

A closer inspection of ECDIS detentions

An apparent rise in the number of ECDIS-related detentions by Australian Port State Control agency AMSA this year may have hit the headlines, but closer inspection reveals more to the story than meets the eye.

Though AMSA already has a reputation for being a stickler on vessel safety, its ire was raised when a ship it detained had a trainer flown from Hong Kong to get the crew up to speed.

This done, the ship was duly released, but AMSA kept up the pressure, detaining eight ships in five months. The message was clear: you should expect to be competent on ECDIS before you come to an Australian port and demonstrate it while you are there.

The question this poses is not why AMSA, along with other port states are focussing on ECDIS, but why they should need to. So long has been the process of mandation and implementation that the casual observer might believe that the well-documented teething problems with ECDIS are by now, non-issues.

Not so. In fact, by some measures, they have never been as important – or the standard of competence as varied – as it is now. In a downturn that sees owners scraping by, cutting training budgets and deferring maintenance, the risk is genuine that more, not fewer incidents will be reported.

The process quietly took a step forward last month, when another milestone was passed, as existing cargoships above 20,000 gt joined the ECDIS-mandated fleet.

Having worked through the passenger ships and tankers considered ‘blue chip’ for meeting oil company vetting or passenger safety requirements, this brings ECDIS into the mainstream of the shipping fleet.

Put bluntly, the industry is now getting down to shipping companies whose officers may not have the skills or competence required for what remains a critical piece of safety equipment.

Harry Gale of the Nautical Institute is quick to praise the competence of AMSA PSC inspectors among others, but says the reports the NI receives suggest that not all inspecting personnel are as up to speed on ECDIS as they should be.

But this pales into insignificance compared to the feedback the Institute hears of ECDIS competence among serving officers. Gale says information received indicates in some cases an ‘appalling’ lack of competence among serving crews. These are seafarers who will have done their generic and familiarisation training but still have ‘nowhere near enough experience to get fully up to speed’.

Read the full post: http://www.greatcircle.co/article/closer-inspection-ecdis-detentions

Is technology sexist? ‘course not darling…

Ada Lovelace was the first female geek. Nowadays acclaimed as the equal of mathematical innovator Charles Babbage, it took decades for her to achieve recognition for writing the first algorithm for Babbage’s mechanical leviathan, the Difference Engine.

Even so, she’s hardly a household name, unlike the boys that mostly run tech businesses these days or the men who dot the history of information technology. Rather illustrating the point, the fact that it was Ada Lovelace Day last week passed me by, but then I guess I’m not really the target market.

The reason for coming upon this Google-inspired flight of fancy was my ruminating on Barista Uno’s recent post on the Marine Café blog bemoaning the lack of women in senior positions in the shipping industry.

There is nothing much new in that, more’s the pity, though his observations underline an acknowledged truth that shipping is as institutionally unbalanced as any other industry. Should we worry about this?

I think yes for a couple of reasons but let’s also keep some perspective. The evidence from Norway, where a quota system is in effect, suggests that legislation is not necessarily the best route to having the right people in the right jobs.

We can all think of examples where people are in roles they are unsuited to or unqualified for and there seems little point in exacerbating the problem by bringing gender into the mix.

But – and it’s a big but – to assume that the status quo is acceptable would be a massive error. There are women in shipping technology and the ones I have come across tend to be hard scientists – I’m thinking of Anne-Marie Warris and Gillian Reynolds both ex-LR and Kirsi Tikka at ABS.

Tikka is a classic example of how to succeed by trying. An egalitarian Finn and engineer by training she cheerfully admits to enjoying her stint at Turku shipyards getting her hands dirty, experience which clearly served her well in corporate life too.

Interviewed for Fairplay earlier this year, Tikka made a prescient comment that avoided all the obvious gender politics about whether the current situation is acceptable or merely unavoidable.

While no fan of positive discrimination, she suggested that if you have one gender in the room, not only are you lacking half the available brain power, but those people will naturally tend towards agreement, because at root, they approach problems in a similar way.

I was reminded of this when reading Uno’s blog and also in calling to mind presentations I have sat through on the Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS) and specifically the issue of their displays and functionality being designed, apparently in a series of vacuums. There are multiple manufacturers and no common ground – despite the Nautical Institute’s tireless calls for an ‘S-mode’ that would enable mariners to put the ECDIS into a base mode that any mariner would recognise.

I may get brickbats thrown for this, but the point I think we need to consider is that men and women approach IT in particular in quite different ways.

Given a piece of IT, men will normally never bother reading the manual but attempt to figure it out by trial and error, setting it up and making it work. Women, (well OK, my wife) take a very different approach.

She wants to understand why the designer made certain choices, how best to approach the functionality and what the limitations and strengths are. This can be quite frustrating – anyone who has tried to read a modern instruction manual knows how impenetrable they can be – and sometimes impossible. Apple devices for example have all but dispensed with instructions, so intuitive is the interface.

But the point is that unlike myself, who will fiddle and make do, her attitude to technology is actually more rigorous, more enquiring, than mine.

How much better might ECDIS for example have been, with a design team that included a broad range of input: different races and both genders that sought to prioritise the over-riding mission – safer navigation – above the desire to include fancy functionality. Yes, the technology continues to advance but in the same vacuum, or at least without any overall guiding principle other than the IMO performance standard.

There are senior female members of the major committees at IMO but I suspect that the technical decisions are made by a cohort of men, as they will tend to be those with the greater direct experience or academic specialisations.

But as last week’s BBC story reported, the lack of young women studying science and pursuing it as a career is not just a waste of talent – in the UK, it is a genuine skills gap that needs to be closed. How much better would maritime technology be if those having input to its creation represented 100% of the available talent, rather than only 49?

Adapt or die? Four key technology trends for a sustainable shipping industry

Roger Adamson, ceo of Stark Moore McMillan continues his series on the technology threats and opportunities facing shipping, focusing on four emerging issues: the sentient ship, the cyborg crew, shipistics and business e-volution

Historically conservative and insular, like many industries before it shipping is facing a watershed period. Currently languishing in the worst downturn many can remember, regulatory compliance and survival in many sectors is the prime focus. But some are already acknowledging that a longer-term view is necessary. In order to secure its future shipping must be focussing on efficiency, competitive advantage and the type of technological innovation other industries are already preparing for and implementing.

I’ve previously outlined what we call the ‘e-nautics’ agenda; the transition to new, digital and technological-based standards of operation and monitoring within the maritime space being driven by regulation, commercial necessity and global change. The study and exploration of this technology-enabled maritime future, Futurenautics is grouped around four key trends, the sentient ship, the cyborg crew, shipistics [a point deducted here for debasement of English – Ed] and business e-volution.

These subject areas include IT-enabled trends and converging technologies both inside and outside shipping: nanotechnology, sensors and actuators, smart materials, connected communications, M2M, the Cloud, big data and the automation of knowledge work.

From nano-tech coatings for waterproofing and anti-fouling to fuel and oil additives, the sentient ship covers the impact of new technologies on the design, construction, materials and operation of commercial vessels. The potential of High Throughput Satellite (HTS) data links, innovative bridge and hull design and algorithms which allow ships to learn and sail themselves are all mirrored in R&D in other industries.

But the potential of smart ships to revolutionise the industry is only being glimpsed. The unpromisingly-named Buckypaper for example, is one tenth the weight yet potentially 500 times stronger than steel. Its lightness means a vehicle built from it needs less fuel, improving energy efficiency. It also offers improved structural integrity and allows wireless data transfer through the composite material. It is already being investigated to build the aeroplanes of the future, but what about for the ships of the future?

And what of the crew on these new smart ships? Wearable tech which transmits a seafarer’s whereabouts to the ship could transform the safety landscape, but the potential for integrating crew and vessel is far greater. From implanted chips facilitating wireless money transfer and payments, confirming identity and enhancing security to the ‘quantified self’ – ingestible sensors monitoring crew health, rest hours/sleep and delivering medication, the management and deployment of technology is poised to deliver sci-fi possibilities.

As HTS facilitates data ‘heavy-lifting’ the potential of big data to shipping will begin to be realised. As companies utilise the cloud to allow business applications to be accessed both onboard and ashore terabytes of data will be streamed to shore and collected by company-wide operations – and shipistics will emerge.

Essential to this will be analysts with the skill-sets to mine and analyse this data, plus new business processes to enable real-time monitoring and transparency and the experimentation that can inform business decisions and drive product and service innovation. Already experts are warning of a worldwide shortage of people qualified to undertake this kind of role, but very few in shipping are even alert to the technology, people, skills and mindsets needed within maritime organisations to capitalise and defend against this trend.

But the lack of preparedness goes wider and deeper than that. The maritime industry has already been described as existing, if not in the stone age, then certainly in the middle of last century by analysts, and remaining competitive in a future of business e-volution will require a wholesale reappraisal of business models and operations.

The potential of machine to machine communications and the internet of things, cloud computing, big data, knowledge automation and customer and consumer expectations will change business profoundly. Maritime leaders must be prepared to consider how the cloud offers them new, creative ways to monetise physical assets as a service, how transparency and data availability erodes established market norms and threatens disintermediation as businesses seek closer integration with their customers.

They should also be prepared to consider new multi-dimensional business models as old sources of competitive advantage give way to new ones. Crucially they must also understand the potential consequences of a failure to innovate in laying the way open to aggressive new cross-industry competitors.

LR’s Global Marine Trends 2030 report – one of the original drivers to the Futurenautics project – paints a picture of a maritime industry as a passive reactor to global drivers and circumstances. Shipping and maritime will change, from ship design, materials and operations to the organisational and commercial structure of shipping and maritime businesses and the jobs and skill-sets of their people both at sea and ashore.

The extent to which it is the master of its own destiny depends upon senior shipping and maritime leaders being equipped with information and contextual analysis of these trends and the opportunities and threats they hold.

Futurenautics aims to demonstrate the importance of transitioning IT/technology from a cost-centre to an enabler of business intelligence and innovation at the heart of the business. It will help shipping and maritime leaders to understand the new skill-sets they, their employees and stakeholders will require to remain competitive and how new consumer and customer expectations will threaten established industry structures, and the importance of innovation in the face of new cross-industry competitors.

And above all Futurenautics aims to inform, educate, engage and entertain and perhaps inspire the next  generation to help shipping shed its image of a passive reactor and become and engaged leader in application of technology.

To register for your free digital launch copy of the quarterly Futurenautics journal, please visit www.futurenautics.com.

Futurenautics, e-nautics and the shape of maritime technology to come…

Research considering the future of shipping is flavour of the moment, but argues guest columnist Roger Adamson of Stark Moore McMillan, it fails to get to grips with technology. Luckily there’s an App for that…

Earlier this year, Lloyd’s Register together with Qinetiq and the University of Strathclyde published the Global Marine Trends 2030 report. Ambitious and fascinating, the report took two years of research to produce and maps out a variety of potential global future scenarios in trade, politics and social development. Assessing their respective impacts upon the commercial maritime industry, it goes on to provide some insights into what shipping might look like in 2030.

It’s an interesting read, but flawed in a couple of really fundamental respects. Firstly, the report simply reinforces the idea that shipping’s cyclical bi-polar economic rollercoaster is beyond its control. Published at a time when shipping is experiencing the worst downturn in memory, no doubt this is a comforting message for many.

However, this downturn has done more to expose the often antiquated business processes and practices of shipping which are increasingly recognised as bearing significant responsibility for the industry’s woes. There are vast opportunities to improve strategy, margin and operational efficiency, and almost all of them are related to technology. Which is where the GMT2030 report really falls down.

Focussing exclusively on the global drivers external to maritime – geopolitical, economic, environmental and demographic – the report recognises technology only as a constituent part of national economics. Describing technology as ‘an enabler not a driver’ for commercial maritime, the report concludes that technological innovation such as actuators and sensors, robotics, behavioural algorithms and 3-D printing are so unforeseeable, and have such massive consequences that they rank alongside global economic collapse.

GMT2030 paints a future picture of a shipping and maritime industry as passive reactor to global drivers and circumstances, demonstrating no significant change or innovation. It sets aside the impact of new technology as disruptive but unknown, its potential implications so profound that they are incapable of being modelled. This maritime future is a depressing one. Whilst the world changes around it, shipping remains, essentially, the same.

But the reality is likely to be profoundly different. Far from being unforeseeable technology trends are already changing the complexion of shipping and business with the pace of change accelerating. From new HTS satellites to M2M or ‘The Internet of All Things’, cloud computing, nanotechnology, smart materials and the e-volution of business it is already possible to spot the maritime future on the horizon.

The transition to new, digital and technological-based standards of operation and monitoring within the maritime space being driven by regulation, commercial necessity and global change can be term ‘e-nautics’. The ‘e-nautic’ agenda comprises IMO’s move towards e-navigation and ECDIS mandation, increased use of voyage optimisation and routing software to reduce fuel costs, and the rising implementation of applications designed to streamline operations and integrate better with customer requirements and systems.

To date regulation has been the prime driver of innovation within maritime and specifically in complying with Marpol, Solas, STCW and the MLC but future mandates are challenges which can increasingly only be met by the intelligent deployment of technology solutions. (Indeed, the failure of regulations like the Ballast Water Management Convention to work as expected can be directly traced to getting the technology/problem cart/horse in the wrong order. Seemp, asset optimisation and the promised re-write of Solas have a direct technology link – but both are another story – Ed).

But for an industry considered to be operating ‘in the stone age’ by business analysts, the real opportunities, and threats, of the accelerating pace of global technological change to shipping and maritime companies have yet to be properly identified and addressed.

Far from being a sci-fi scenario, Manufacturing 3.0 is already here. 3-D printing technology – which has the potential to decimate the container shipping business model – is already being deployed by motor manufacturers and giants like GE for aero engine manufacture. (See in particular the most recent Economist Technology Quarterly – http://www.economist.com/technology-quarterly/2013-09-07 for evidence of that – Ed)

Stark Moore McMillan calls this technology-enabled maritime future Futurenautics. Grouped around four key trends, The Sentient Ship, The Cyborg Crew, Shipistics and Business e-volution, Futurenautics includes IT-enabled trends and converging technologies both inside and outside shipping.

In order to equip senior shipping and maritime leaders and stakeholders with information and contextual analysis of these trends and the threats and opportunities they hold, a new resource by the same name is launching this autumn.

The shipping industry will change, but the extent to which it is the master of its own destiny lies in the hands of this and the coming generation of shipping and maritime leaders. In order to be successful those at the helm of maritime businesses need to be looking across their organisations at the impacts, threats and opportunities from a technology paradigm. It is crucial that they are encouraged and helped to understand how this should shape their future strategies.

I’ll take a deeper dive into the four key trends, the underlying technologies, impacts and threats in a future guest article.

To register for your free digital launch copy of the quarterly Futurenautics journal, please visit www.futurenautics.com.

Who’s afraid of disruptive change?

Guest contributor Kevin Tester of Marine IT and Electronics has kindly shared this post written to cover the recent Gordon Hodge Memorial Lecture given by Nick Lambert of the UKHO.

Lambert makes some interesting points – some indeed already covered by yours truly on the Admiralty blog over the last couple of years – that shipping ultimately won’t avoid the wave of technology coming down the pipe.

The best example of this is ECDIS where the UKHO has tried to increase recognition of the challenges not just of getting to grips with electronic navigation but of the larger forces in play, some of which he references here.

The last point about GPS is also timely, not least because eLoran is finally in operation but because the issues of jamming and spoofing seem as relevant as ever however long they seem to have been reported.

There’s a link to the video here, too. You can follow Kevin at @MITEeditor.

Embrace disruptive change – Gordon Hodge Memorial Lecture

By Kevin Tester

‘Radical new technologies are approaching the maritime industry on a steady bearing and it is time to respond.’ This was the key message former National Hydrographer of the UK, Rear Admiral Nick Lambert sought to deliver as he addressed an audience of marine engineers of all ages, which had descended on Trinity House, London for the IMarEST Gordon Hodge Memorial lecture on 22 May 2013.

The maritime sector is undergoing a seismic shift, he announced. After decades of being left on the periphery, there is a new found recognition of the so-called ‘Blue Economy’. Getting the most from this new economy will require a host of new ‘Blue Technologies’, some of which already exist, but many others are still in their infancy.

Despite this new wave of optimism, the maritime industry is often accused of being inherently conservative. It is criticised for being slow-moving, slow-thinking and generally wary of change however understandable that may be. Depending on who you ask, it is 10, 20 or even 30 years behind the likes of the aviation or automotive industries. To prosper and succeed, the inertia and aversion to change that are these apparent hallmarks of shipping must be addressed. Moreover, embracing change will not only allow the industry to ride the wave, but also help shape it and take charge where it matters most.

So what changes are we talking about? The shift to electronic navigation is perhaps the most apparent and, because it is already underway, perhaps the most instructive of the challenges that lie ahead. But there are others: remote and autonomous control and 3D printing have been bubbling under the surface for a number of years now and have recently entered the wider public consciousness.

Glimpsing the future

Today remote controlled drones are routinely deployed in Afghanistan and theatres of war elsewhere in the Middle East. Autonomous drones – normally taking the form of lightweight quadcopters – are becoming ever more sophisticated and intelligent, escaping the confines of lab environments and increasingly capable of exploring the real-world. Earlier this month BAe demonstrated a remotely controlled commercial equivalent plane in controlled airspace: arguably, a natural progression from the fly-by-wire control systems that are de rigeur in commercial aviation. Google has been experimenting and is making rapid progress with driverless cars. These advances are gradually seeping into maritime space. And at IMDEX Asia earlier this year the Singaporean Navy gave delegates a glimpse of its unmanned surface craft, which is already patrolling waters near the island city state.

So unmanned surface craft are out there patrolling a seaspace.  What are the implications?  How are they controlled, what is the training and experience for the operators and are such operations effectively administered by the COLREGS?  It may be the case that COLREGS are fine for the time being but should we begin the debate about updating them in light of emerging technology?

The rise of 3D printing, at first glance, would appear distant from the maritime industry. However ignoring it completely, warns Lambert, would be a mistake. If the development of this technology continues on its current trajectory, it could bring about a revolution in how and where manufacturing takes place. Why churn out toys from a factory in China when it could be done with a quicker turnaround locally? This would have implications on the pattern of trade that has traditionally provided the backbone of today’s shipping industry.

Staying in charge

But arguably what is more important than the hardware is how we – the users – interact with it. Drawing from his time at UKHO, Lambert flashes up a slide of an ECDIS console adorned with countless Post-It notes for the benefit of its human-users. This, he says, is due to a lack of user-centred design. ‘Whilst a big step forward in capability, the technology is not always doing what the user needs it to do,’ he states.

Drawing on the lessons of ECDIS implementation he suggests that learned bodies, such as IMarEST, are well-positioned to help steer the evolution of new technologies and ensure that the user is in charge of the machine and not vice-versa.

Lambert went on to explore the differences between ‘digital immigrants’, the generation that has adopted the Internet (sometimes reluctantly) as an adult, and ‘digital natives’, referring to those who grew up with the Internet and who can’t imagine a world without it. Notably, whereas ‘immigrants’ were brought up to learn and memorise, ‘natives’ expect to simply ‘look-up’ information as and when required. The two groups differ also in their attitudes to privacy and information sharing.

While neither approach is better or worse than the other, this shift, Lambert argues, impacts on how people interact with technology. ‘The younger generation is more likely to implicitly trust what machines tell them, without necessarily understanding the limitations of that information or the technology producing it. The classic example here is the anecdote of a motorist blindly following his satnav and driving off a quay into a canal. The consequences of a similar error of judgement at the helm of 200,000gt tanker would, unfortunately, be rather less comical.’

So poke me. Do seafarers really need always-on communications at sea?

In the second part of my interview with Intermanager Secretary General Kuba Szymanski we get off topic. That is to say, beyond Intermanager’s work with VSAT vendors and into an area of arguably greatest interest for maritime satellite providers: crew communications and the use of social media onboard ship.

The latter appears to have the communications industry captivated. Crew are reportedly demanding greater access to the internet and the industry is responding, citing its importance in retention and the risks of ignoring such requests.

The perceived shortage of skilled and qualified crew is driving demand for bandwidth far in excess of that for business use. In doing so, it skews the VSAT demand figures, not least because the kind of applications seafarers would like to use are so bandwidth hungry.

To Kuba this puts the cart and horse in the wrong order. The potential of social media tools is huge and growing, but to use a shortage of seafarers as a driver to growth is to misunderstand the current situation.

“First of all, I don’t think this effect is happening as much as some journalists say and as much as some shipping industry ‘politicians’ claim. People are saying every day that the younger generation will not go to sea. I’m being very honest with you now, but the younger generation has no choice, because there is no other employment at the moment,” he says.

The popularity of cadetships at the UK’s Trinity House is growing year by year, not least because of the introduction of tuition fees but Kuba says across Europe, the realisation that a junior officer can earn £35,000 a year tax free is enough for them to make the leap and if that means no internet access, so be it.

“I’m not very popular for saying things like this. I’m seen as being controversial but this is how I see it,” he says. “I also believe that a lot of youngsters are clever enough to know how to communicate whenever the vessel is in port or near shore, so the periods with no communication might be quite limited depending on the trade they are in.”

The ‘bring your own device’ trend where more youngsters have their own laptops or smartphones means they are increasingly adept at getting online. But he says lack of signal is only half the problem.

Also at issue is that owners are increasingly looking to crew to share the cost burden of crew calling, providing the best possible way to accurately measure demand. “The owners are saying OK, but you need to pay half or a percentage and that immediately shows you that youngsters can do without it. If it is free of charge then everybody uses it, but as soon as you have to pay something, then all of a sudden you find that they can do without it,” he notes.

He mentions a large tanker company which put a lot of resources into free onboard internet for crew use but found the cost so prohibitive that they were forced to put more and more restrictions in place as the price for free access. The result, to coin a phrase is neither public nor convenient.

But Kuba’s iconoclasm doesn’t stop there. The industry needs to understand the simplest of drivers – supply and demand.

“I think it is very important to understand there is no shortage of seafarers,” he states. “There is a surplus of seafarers, even in the LNG sector. Owners are not struggling to get crew and some are asking why should I go the extra mile, they will come to me anyhow.”

That’s a big statement in an industry where ‘shortage of crew’, like ‘high fuel costs’ and ‘too much regulation’ is an article of faith. Is Kuba really saying the industry has all the skilled and competent seafarers it needs? Just as in communications, you get what you pay for, he thinks.

“If you want a good quality crew they are there. If you want the best, well, that’s hard because everybody is after them. If you pay the bottom of the market, that’s what you will get. It’s like having sex and not imagining you might have a child. Owners are getting very cheap crew and expecting to have excellent standards and quality,” he adds.

But as to their expectations, he sees the potential of social media as the glue that can bind seafarers together, and maybe let their would-be employers in on the game too. He contests whether Facebook and Skype are truly household names onboard ship, but says the effect on seafarers is immediate and obvious.

“If you think from the psychological point of view. I might work with you for four months and then there is a chance then I will never work with you again. But we became friends and we want to keep in touch. Facebook is a beautiful solution to that, which is why seafarers use it so much, along with things like CrewToo or MyShip.”

Intermanager is hardly the first industry body to have a Facebook page but he has noted that it gets double the traffic than the official website, primarily from seafarers.

“I was asking myself the question why and the answer is it comes with age. In shipmanagement, you’ve got people my age or older and onboard the vessels you’ve got people my age or younger and to these guys it’s what they grew up with.”

The desire to keep in touch and the availability of the tools to make it happen provides a natural win for an organisation so interested in the crew that make world trade go around.

“The most successful companies realise that Facebook does not have to be an enemy. It should be a tool to tap into seafarers, so listen to them, see how morale is, what is motivating them, to keep a finger on the pulse,” he suggests.

It is that – rather than outfitting the ship with a fat communications pipe and footing the bill – that he believes will make a difference in getting the best crew to work with your company. And as he adds, compared to Inmarsat or VSAT, the investment is far lower.

“Still, when I talk to people, people say Facebook gives you no return on investment. First of all, the investment is minimal; it’s time not money. But what it brings is a lot of traffic, a lot of interesting stuff. It is difficult to measure, but how much would you pay to get to five thousand people on your database, most of whom are potential employees? All I know is you would have to spend a lot of money on advertising to achieve anything similar.”

Smarter shipping means having communications you can rely on

The opportunity for a conversation with Intermanager Secretary General Kuba Szymanski is not to be missed, but you do have to pick your moment. True, he is to be seen on many a conference platform, but he is equally likely to be en route to another airport and the other side of the world, or even home to his beloved Isle of Man.

My interest for catching up with him was prompted by his having taken part in the recent Satellite 2013 conference in Washington, illustrating a growing interest in communications on behalf of Intermanager members. Some 12 months previously he had given a rather effective dressing down to VSAT providers at the Global VSAT Forum just after MaritimeInsight got going, so I was keen to see what progress he had made in making the process of buying satcoms more transparent.

As always when talking to Kuba, the conversation took in related subjects and included some strong opinions. Nonetheless, this is an organisation that wants to change things, so a straight line is not always the most effective route from A to B.

Intermanager’s interest in satellite communications stems from not just from a desire to shake up the buying process. It is founded on the belief that communications form a vital and undervalued link in the business process as well as in crew welfare.

“Intermanager is always talking about crew and I thought it was time to start walking the talk,” he explains. “We really care about our crew and that means the crew as both a worker and as an employee.”

“What we wanted to bring forward is that communication is also extremely important for the viability of our businesses. Without good communication, without good core connection with vessels we will struggle,” he goes on. As a former fleet General Manager for MOL Tankship, his experience had convinced him that users were not getting what VSAT had promised them.

“For the last few years, we have been, let’s say ‘misled’ and we could not afford that anymore. When we only had Inmarsat everybody knew what the boundaries were, expectations were quite limited but Inmarsat was able to meet these expectations. As soon as VSAT came onboard, expectations have been blown out of proportion by the providers,” he adds.

The biggest problem was the assumption that maritime users made that they would soon be enjoying terrestrial broadband speeds. But his gripe was not that VSAT failed to usher in an era of social media and internet use but that VSAT services failed to do what they said on the tin despite running to big bucks.

“We were told we would get 365 days of connection but they forgot to say there would be no service between Australia and Cape Town. Intermanager said, OK, enough is enough. We can always whinge but this will not improve the situation. So we sat down with GVF and we gave them some very constructive criticism and they were happy to take the feedback.”

Suitably chastened no doubt, GVF got Intermanager involved in its events and brought the organisation together with the providers. Kuba happily admits this was not one way traffic, the managers had to improve their knowledge too.

To be fruitful, this could never be just a question of blaming the VSAT guys, but rather looking for sources of assistance and that meant shipmanagers could help themselves by deciding clearly what they needed.

The organisation commissioned Stark Moore McMillan to undertake a survey to gauge return on investment for shipmanagers, “so we could help our guys to see how much money they have to invest in order to achieve more, what were areas which could benefit most and which might benefit least from good communications” he explains.

In providing a tool to help in decision-making Kuba says managers have moved from ‘an educated guess to an educated management decision’ and he says the vendors have listened and moved too.

“I’m extremely pleased because it shows them we were right! There are cowboys in shipmanagement and the same applies to the VSAT system providers. The name of the game here is listening, so they sat down with us and said OK you tell us what your problems are and we together will try to work out the best possible solutions. That is what I was hoping for three years ago and we are some way to achieving that.”

He agrees there are members who decide they still know better but he says even the switched-on companies need help and advice so the opportunity to work directly with suppliers is welcome.

He says many on the sell-side realised they had to up their game if they wanted to sell to owners bumping along the bottom of a terrible market and for whom the to do list starts with the regulatory must-haves and works down to the nice to have add-ons.

“It’s not only VSAT, some of the bigger providers manage terrestrial communication, GSM, data exchanges so they are able to pull a lot of strings. I didn’t expect some of them to know as much about shipping as they did but I ended talking to one who said ‘what about ECDIS, we’ve got a nice solution for you guys’ and that was the icing on the cake.”

The Intermanager engagement strategy is simple, if demanding: be professional, do your homework, understand what makes a shipmanager tick and what can be done to make their life easier. Without that it’s best not to come to the table.

Isn’t it a problem though, that just as the industry sees light at the end of the tunnel, the broader satellite industry is regarding maritime as a potential pot of gold? The risk is that not just incumbents become more aggressive but that new players steam in and destabilise a market that is just getting back on its feet.

Kuba sees the same trend and a repeat of the original path of VSAT into maritime. Other markets have been already saturated and with revenues from government or land mobile under pressure and aero still emerging, shipping looks like a safe bet.

“A lot of them have a misconception in that they see shipping as the big passenger vessels so it is an eye-opener to discover there are only have 350 of those. That might have put them off but they don’t have many other places to go so suddenly the other 75,000 vessels look very tempting. But just because you can sell one million iPhones doesn’t mean all those ships want or can afford VSAT. Using your iPhone might mean paying $20 dollars a month not $5,000 a month for VSAT,” he says.

The number of commercial aircraft also compares poorly to ships, prompting a revival of interest at the point when potential customer advantage can be gained from better communication.

“Everybody has a vessel, everyone has crew but only very few can provide an excellent communication link with your customers so users now are demanding more. The charterer used to ask the manager or operator where is my vessel, what is the ETA, where should I put my trucks? These days the manager can say ‘don’t ask me, log in and you can see all that information.”

Coming up in Part 2 – why the crew calling trend could be overdone and whether there really is a shortage of seafarers.

CrewComms_infographic

Crew retention is the tip of the digital iceberg

Almost 12 months ago an ambitious project began to take shape. Roger Adamson of Stark Moore Macmillan, Vizada (now Astrium Services) and two of the largest crewing agencies in the world, Philippine Transmarine Carriers and CF Sharp, joined forces to embark on the most comprehensive survey of crew and their attitudes towards and use of communications at sea ever undertaken.

The resulting report has generated considerable interest. But while Adamson says it is encouraging to see so many shipmanagers and operators recognising the operational benefits of improved communications from a crew retention perspective, in this guest blog, he lays out why he believes there is a wider opportunity which comparatively few in the industry are really grasping.

Considering the enduring importance of crew retention it may seem surprising that until last year no organisation had commissioned definitive independent research into the communications requirements and habits of seafarers.

However, when confronted with the logistics of reaching, collecting and analysing the written, paper responses of almost 1,000 officers and ratings, this lack of comprehensive research becomes rather more understandable.

Key to any research project is the quality of the data and the sample. Had we not been working with PTC and CF Sharp which between them send over 47,000 crew each year to over 1,000 vessels in the commercial cargo and passenger sectors, it is unlikely such a survey would have been possible.

It certainly wouldn’t have produced such high quality data and responses. With the total market for satellite based crew communications estimated at approximately 925,000 individuals, our sample represents in the region of 1% of the market – making the dataset both fascinating and statistically significant.

One of the headline results has been that 68% of seafarers now have access to communications whilst at sea either all or most of the time with only 2% reporting that they never have access to communications. However those headline figures mask a wide variance between different sectors. For instance the passengership sector, despite having the highest levels of communications equipment on board, provides the lowest levels of free crew communications of any sector.

In common with the passenger sector, offshore vessels have very high levels of equipment, but neither of these are principally driven by crew communications requirements. For the passenger sector, high-bandwidth communications systems are major revenue generators with the penetration of VSAT extremely high.

Similarly, the offshore sector is well penetrated with VSAT systems as charterer requirements dictate high-bandwidth be available, but in contrast to the passenger sector, offshore vessels offer far better access to free and paid-for communications, most likely a reflection of the scarcity of qualified offshore crew.

Across the sectors 46% of crew are not provided with any form of free communications at all. In the context of crew retention that figure should be raising eyebrows.

As a regular speaker at the Informa Manning & Training conference, where this year I’ve been asked to speak to delegates in Dubrovnik about crew communications, I consistently hear managers and operators wrestling with the issue of crew retention.

I’m repeatedly being told that the expense of training crew means that retaining them offers real dollar savings and competitive advantage. When one considers the noise VSAT has been making over the past several years it is curious that we are still in a situation where almost half of all seafarers have no access to free communications, when the ability to provide them with such would not only assist in their retention, but also offer broader opportunities to ship managers and operators.

I think this is where the real issues lie. Traditionally the expense of satellite communications together with the necessity for robust equipment and reliability in an environment where mission-critical literally equates to life and death, has always meant failure wasn’t an option and experimentation challenging.

As one of the most regulated industries in the world, shipping is about compliance and meeting minimum requirements. In many respects it is a unique industry, but it is not immune from the digital revolution which has swept up every other.

With the IMO advocating an over-arching e-navigation strategy combining ECDIS with new technologies converging across navigation, IT and communications, the landscape of maritime business is changing fast.

The opportunities for forward thinking ship managers and operators are highly significant, but unlocking maritime’s digital promise will require a major shift in thinking. IT, communications and digital technologies have the potential to drive cost savings, service improvements and the all-important crew retention.

In my experience shipmanagers and operators are hungry to understand how and where their businesses can implement and benefit from these changes, but as yet suppliers aren’t creating the cross-businesses value propositions to help them.

By commissioning the Crew Communications 2012 survey Astrium have signaled their intention to address this need. The wealth of information it has provided to shipmanagers and operators about the crew they depend upon is extremely valuable, but it’s only the beginning of what’s required.

Case studies have always been the primary tool in the maritime salesperson’s armoury, but what’s needed now are more independent, in-depth studies and analysis which can inform both suppliers, and ship managers and operators.

The advent of new High Throughput Satellite systems, from Intelsat EPIC to Inmarsat’s GlobalXpress, O3B to Iridium NEXT, means bandwidth and speeds will accelerate further. But without the context of operational implementation and potential cost efficiencies these systems are just adding a new level of complexity for ship managers and operators.

We are approaching an era of real technology convergence in maritime which has the potential to transform the industry for the better. Doing so will require technology suppliers to gain a far more holistic and in-depth understanding of the shipping business. And for ship managers and operators to help them.

A condensed version of the Stark Moore McMillan report, Crew Communications 2012 is available for download from here.

Does shipping have an Aaron Swartz? Maybe it needs one

This is one of those articles – an obituary in fact – that you read, then re-read with growing attention and which sets you thinking. You think ‘what a waste of a brilliant brain’ but I don’t know enough about him to make judgements about that.

What I wondered was – what would a shipping industry version of this guy look like? Would he get anywhere? Would anyone listen to him?

Has anyone in maritime IT invented anything anything as innovative or useful as RSS? How about ECDIS or S-100? One might say AIS is a neat piece of technology but of course the US Air Force paid for that and shipping got to use it.

Mostly I keep being drawn back to the concluding comment – that people like Aaron develop standards for free that companies take up and use to create profits. Some are winners, some pay the price of their idealism.

Read the Bloomberg Businessweek article here.

Eyes on the future of e-Navigation

How far we are looking ahead in the maritime industry is a topic I’ve tried to unpack over the last couple of weeks and the results so far have conformed more to short term problem-solving than long term strategic needs.

So it was a matter of good timing that the Economist included an article on eye tracking in its technology quarterly around the same time as the recent DigitalShip Athens event. As the Economist observed, the ability to use neuroscience to track the behaviour of consumers is already providing marketers with invaluable data on how to package and position brands.

But the applications go far beyond how we choose our breakfast cereal. In the US, eye tracking is already being used to alert drivers in danger of falling asleep at the wheel. Disabled people can use it to operate computers and wheelchairs and surgeons can use it as a ‘third hand’ to control robotic equipment. Naturally there are military applications too but typically there was no mention of shipping.

That made the presentation by Dr. Nikitas Nikitakos, Professor, Dept. of Shipping Trade and Transport, University of the Aegean to DS Athens the more timely. Dr Nikitakos’ group is using the principles of neuroscience to study the usability and ergonomics of bridge equipment, in particular to assess how bridge staff would work with the IMO’s e-Navigation programme which promises more screens and machines on the bridge of the future.

Once this might have been a blue-sky technology but the falling cost of equipment makes its application to business and consumer markets increasingly practical.

Neuroscience is the scientific study of the nervous system. Traditionally a branch of biology it has been transformed by the application of computer engineering to cover chemistry, mathematics, linguistics, medicine and applied sciences. And there is plenty to study, since the nervous system is the most complex organ system in body: the brain alone is home to 100m neurons and 100 trn synapses.

At the University of the Aegean, cognitive neuroscience is being used to study the affect of external conditions on the nervous system, such as what attracts the user’s attention, what changes their perception and what activity or processes take place during decision making. One outcome of the research will be to develop interactive technologies that can benefit from cognitive ergonomics. Understanding how the bridge team operates means that the design and position of equipment can be improved.

But Dr Nikitakos says ergonomics is more than just maritime feng shui. It is crucial in managing the health, safety and mental workload of bridge teams and he hopes to produce guidance how to evaluate the optimum installation of equipment on the bridge.

“Cognitive neuroscience employs three means of assessment; experiential verification, operational definition and repetition and uses tools such as eye tracking, MRI, speech sentiment analysis and facial analysis to understand the effect of their environment on the subject,” he explains.

His group focuses mainly on using a specially-designed helmet to track the gaze of a subject’s eyes across bridge equipment as well as employing speech recorders to process voice commands onboard.

Capturing the needs of the user is at the heart of e-Navigation and Dr Nikitakos believes usability will be key to getting personnel to adapt to the new equipment and systems they might be using.

“We are defining usability in terms of ISO standards as the extent to which equipment can be used to achieve specific goals effectively and efficiently. For marine usability, we are focussing tests on evaluating usability of specific products for real users,” he says.

In practice, this means evaluating usability and ergonomic set-up on the bridge for each command position, as well as issues such as the quality of colours used in displays. He thinks equipment manufacturers and bridge designers could use the outputs from the research results to model modes of interactivity and how to assist command functions and improve teamwork while minimising stress.

The research takes a mixed – and practical – approach, assessing inputs such as GPS, ECDIS and steering control and working with maritime academies in simulator situations supplemented by questionnaires and interviews.

The university is also working with a Japanese research team attached to the IMO’s e-Navigation sub-committee which is adding neuroscience to its observations and develop more robust data, examining the differences between cadets and expert users and between nationalities and genders – and  suggesting what may need to be modified to improve usability.

As Dr Nikitakos points out the University of the Aegean is far from the first institution to study how neuroscience can measure behaviour and suggest improvements to usability, but he says his group is the first to consider the this technology in terms of the maritime sector. But presumably there will be more people keeping an eye on it now.