IBIA CONVENTION: Lack of Willingness for Transparency Seen as Key Barrier to Bunker Industry Digitalisation

by Ship & Bunker News Team
Monday November 13, 2023

A lack of willingness for transparency is seen as a key barrier for a successful digitalisation of the bunker industry, according to a recent survey by industry body IBIA.

Kenneth Juhls, Managing Director, ZeroNorth Bunker and chair of IBIA's Digitalisation Working Group, presented the results of the survey at the IBIA Annual Convention 2023 in Dubai on Thursday.

When asked to identify the main barriers for a successful digitalisation of the industry, concerns over transparency joined 'change management mind-set' as the top two responses by participants.

They were also the only two choices selected by more than 30% of respondents, besting other options such as 'solutions not good enough', 'lack of investment capacity', 'silo-thinking', 'complex operational business' and 'no existing standard'.

Transparency comes in many forms, and Juhls noted a key factor for many companies is that their data is commercially sensitive.

"Maybe transparency is good, but there is also commercially sensitive information, so how much transparency do we really want? Obviously that might differ in different parts of the value chain," Juhls told the gathered delegates. 

"It's clear that there is resistance to transparency; I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing, obviously everyone wants to protect their business, and there's a commercial edge in what we all do."

A key attraction to the transparency brought about by digitising the industry is that it helps both buyers and sellers to improve their performance as with enough pooled data, it becomes possible to benchmark against the market as a whole. 

"How can we find a way to get the information and the data back to the ecosystem without revealing commercially sensitive data? I think there's a pathway here that can actually help everybody make better decisions," Juhls said.

It is worth noting that not all digital platforms take the same approach to transparency and data pooling. StormGeo, for example, who was respresented in the conference session by its Head of Bunker Management Products, Christian Plum, stresses that for its bunker products it does not share anonymized data between users. 

Left unsaid is the reality that high levels of opacity benefit many in the industry, be it their ability to maintain healthy margins, to a key value add being a network of contacts built over many years of service. 

As for the mindset on change management being a barrier, Juhls said change management was "critical for getting the value out of digital solutions."

"I always say there are three things that are super important when you go into the digital side: its about the system, the software; it's about people; and it's about the process.

"You will probably not buy a software and then execute the business in exactly the same way you've done before. So you need to adapt, up need to change, and that needs to get sown from the top that we can do things better. So providing that pathway and support on change management is critical."

The working group carried out the survey in October, with all industry stakeholders able to respond. The survey had 60-70 respondents.

Of those, more than 80% said they either had a digital strategy already or were working on one. Most also said they were investing enough in digitalisation, and that they knew which service providers could assist them with their strategy.