Guest blog: the digital dividend

The UK’s maritime industry has a history of pushing the boundaries in technology. It is important this tradition is maintained into the Digital Age, writes Drew Brandy, Inmarsat's SVP of maritime market strategy.

city of london night

The UK has a long and rich maritime history that spans and permeates the breadth of human endeavour. This is particularly evident in the realms of science, commerce, engineering and technology. The capability to measure longitude, the birth of modern insurance and the invention of radar mark just some of the achievements witnessed down the centuries.

Today, while the UK flag may not be as prevalent as it once was, the country continues to provides a leading global hub for maritime finance and legal services, as well as marine engineering and technology. It is home to numerous academic and research institutions that are respected around the world. It also happens to be the home of shipping’s global regulator, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).

This clustering effect should mean the knowledge, expertise and experience can move quickly between different parts of the industry, resulting in a fruitful cross-fertilisation of ideas that is essential for growth.

Thus, while IMO’s decision in 1979 to establish Inmarsat not far from its London headquarters was probably driven by little more than mundane practical considerations, in hindsight, there couldn’t have been a better location.

Nevertheless, we cannot rest on our laurels. The Internet, and the wider digital revolution it has given rise to, is touching upon all parts of the global economy - shipping included. Our industry is often accused of being stuck in the past, of being held back by tradition, but I believe that this stereotype itself is becoming a thing of the past.

Modern shipowners and operators increasingly see digitalisation as an opportunity that must be seized to increase business efficiency and quality of service provided to their customers. There are countless possibilities from real-time equipment monitoring and emergency triage to bringing Big Data analytical techniques to benchmarking and optimising vessel operations at a fleet level. There are also other benefits - the improvements in crew communications continues to reduce the isolation so often felt by seafarers - that are harder to quantify but nevertheless make a difference: a happy ship is an efficient ship.

Inmarsat understands that the provision of reliable and plentiful connectivity is prerequisite to realising those opportunities. In 2007, it introduced FleetBroadband, which was a game-changer in bringing easy-to-use, always-on Internet to the merchant fleet.

Since then, we’ve invested millions of dollars in developing and launching our Global Xpress constellation of satellites. These power our next-generation broadband service Fleet Xpress, which extends the connectivity available at sea to an unprecedented level. Uptake of Fleet Xpress has accelerated rapidly since its commercial launch last year, reflecting the pent-up demand and growing appetite for data among vessel operators.

However, Fleet Xpress represents more than a virtual pipe to ensure that data flows unimpeded between ship and shore. It is built on a sophisticated platform that meets the needs of today’s more mature Internet ecosystem. For instance, it allows equipment manufacturers to take responsibility for data streams relating to their onboard systems, thus relieving the burden from vessel owners.

Such flexibility opens the door to the development of a new breed of digital applications. The building of these will depend upon attracting fresh blood to the industry and new companies with new business models. It means enticing a younger generation with new ideas, who are less afraid to challenge established norms. 

It also means creating maritime tech clusters for start-ups and looking at funding initiatives – something other countries like Norway and Ireland have already developed. Taking advantage of its position near London’s Silicon Roundabout, we have already held hackathons and other such events to encourage and stimulate this innovation. 

However, this is not something Inmarsat can do alone. If UK shipping has really come around to the idea that digitalisation is here to stay, then it is therefore incumbent on all players to embrace it and find ways to make it work to their advantage. This will both ensure their own future in a digital world and contribute to the prosperity of the industry as a whole.

The UK has a rich maritime heritage - one that is founded upon pushing the boundaries of science and engineering. I would therefore call on the industry to maintain that tradition and proactively encourage innovation across all companies from start-up to established player.   

  • Drew Brandy is speaking at the UK Chamber's upcoming "End to End Digitisation - A Future Technologies Event”  forum, which is being held on July 13th. As always, members of the UK Chamber can attend for free. Find more information about the event here

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For more information contact:

Holly Birkett

Communications Manager (content & digital)

020 7417 2868 / 07807 790058