Industry Insight: The Year Ahead in Data and How EU-MRV Is Affecting the Digital Landscape

by Ilmo Kuutti, President, NAPA Group
Tuesday January 16, 2018

Last year, EU-MRV saw owners and operators starting to report and measure emissions and cargo data. This was not only a milestone for environmental data collection – but a fascinating exercise in introducing a new level of transparency to the maritime industry. However, unless companies can push ourselves to turn working with data from a cost-saving exercise to a driver of profits, we risk missing out on the benefits of this broadening access data. Similarly, we need to make sure that the majority of the fleet can benefit from it, not just big players who can invest heavily.

Thanks to EU-MRV, emissions data (and, therefore, fuel consumption data) and cargo volume data, is now widely available, when previously it would have been solely in the hands of shipping companies. This is, arguably, the shape of things to come. With SOx and NOx reporting and the IMO DCS on the horizon, and the expansion of Emission Controls Areas (ECAs) that come with their own reporting requirements, the amount of reporting owners and operators will need to do is likely to increase – as is the amount of data that will be available on vital areas of ship operations. Particularly as shipbuilders such as HHI start to create 'intelligent' ships, full of monitoring equipment as standard, it's clear that the floodgates are now well and truly open.

Increased amounts of, and access to, data is all well and good – but we need to remember that, on its own, data is itself is useless until you can combine it with algorithms, analytics and background knowledge to transform it into useful information, making full use of the arsenal of Big Data analytics. This is where maritime software and data specialists like NAPA must push themselves to add value – and show that data collection can be not only a source of efficiencies – but a profit driver on its own.

The opportunity is certainly here, as the range of datasets we can work with is increasing rapidly. For example, this new level of data collection comes at the same time a huge increase in the coverage and availability of AIS data. As the number of satellites in orbit has increased in the last few year, we can track and analyse the voyages of vessels all over the world. This now forms the backbone of a huge number of tracking and monitoring systems, which become more valuable, the more datasets are added. For us at NAPA, this development allowed us to create Fleet Intelligence, the first tool that decouples performance monitoring from onboard equipment, and brings the benefits to a far wider segment of the industry. It takes data such as AIS, chart, weather and environmental data  – and applies advanced algorithms, based on our knowledge of ship performance modelling and hydrodynamics to deliver efficiency insights. While only around 10% of the industry currently has access to on-board monitoring equipment, Fleet Intelligence makes efficiency insights available via a web browser, allowing many more to benefit.

AIS only solves part of the problem however. If data is truly going to be for everybody, it needs to take account of the nature of the global fleet. As vessels have a lifetime of 20-30 years, we need to get better at managing a range of inputs and information, from ships built at different yards with different technologies and standards. All of this data – when combined in the right way – can be valuable. We just need to make sure we operate in such a way that we can capture, and use as much of it as possible.

The alternative is that we end up with a two-tier market on digitalisation in 2018. At the same time as we see more data-led solutions being developed and have major data centres being created by DNV GL and Class NK, other parts of the industry are still only beginning to embrace simple digital solutions - like electronic logbooks. The decreasing cost and increasing availability of on-board connectivity looks set to decrease the gap between those investing in advanced digital solutions, and those only just shifting to electronic reporting. But we must remain aware that there is much of our industry still working on paper noon reports at the same time as others have access to a new world of planning, routing and efficiency insights.

We've passed the tipping point for data and our ability to work with it - we have never moved as fast as we can now and we'll never move this slowly again. However, to maintain momentum, and enthusiasm, we need to stay focused on turning data into value. We need to operate in a way that helps manage the issues that keep supply chain stakeholders up at night: Are ships following the agreed operational profile? Can anything be done to reduce fuel spend? Has the cargo been loaded safely? Are my shore-based teams getting what they need to be as productive as they can be?

The answers to these questions can only come from combining new data sources with an in-depth knowledge of our industry. If we can do this, we can ensure that new data collection initiatives such as EU-MRV don't simply become box-ticking exercises for owners and operators – but a chance to help shipping businesses of all sizes thrive.