The Digitization of Shipping

In the maritime industry, improving performance has historically been focused on improving the vessel itself— using onboard data to optimize routes, reduce turnaround time in port, or cut supply chain costs through rationalization.

With much attention given to unlocking latent efficiencies to trade on the sea, land-based optimization runs the risk of being overlooked; specifically, in the offices of cargo owners or shippers, ship owners, brokers and other key stakeholders controlling the supply chain.

“Today, a vast amount of resources are wasted due to inefficient and error-prone manual
processes…The world trading ecosystem is valued at $4 trillion of goods shipped each year
and the cost required to administer is estimated at “20%” of goods shipped, any savings would
be tremendous.”
  Forbes, January 16, 2018

It’s important for us to learn from other actors in the maritime efficiency space, and foster a dialogue to find common ground and shared solutions. Thus begins the first in a series of discussions with thought leaders on how shipping can use digitization to improve internal process to gain greater efficiency and profits.


On June 19, 2018 a group of industry leaders came together to address the topic of “Time as a Commodity” and the digitization of shipping with industry executives from the US, UK, Singapore, Norway, Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, and South Africa in attendance. Adrian Tolson, Senior Partner at 2020 Marine Energy, a leading marine energy expert moderated the discussion with panelists Deanna MacDonald, CEO of BLOC and Bill Dobie, CEO of SEDNA.

Three questions were presented for discussion:

  • Question #1: Is shipping looking in the right place for efficiencies or is it being blinded by ‘shiny new objects’ like autonomous shipping?

  • Question #2: How do you avoid becoming one of those shiny new objects? In essence, how do you communicate a business case to adopt new technology?

  • Question #3: How do you incentivize people to be part of the system to adopt new technology processes and create transparency with trusted data?

Key Insights

The panelists identified ten key areas when bringing new technology into the organization to gain greater efficiency and profitability. You can read the first five here:

  1. Support human interaction

    • Recognize the human interaction that sits at the heart of deal-making in shipping and support the work of the counterparties, rather than attempting – unrealistically – to replace it.

  2. Find efficiencies at the margins

    • Impactful efficiencies can be found at the margins of your processes and in unexpected corners – sometimes where the roots of received wisdom and technological inertia are deepest.

  3. Don’t be blinded by hype

    • Don’t let the ‘hype’ around any new technology skew your expectations of what can be achieved, or blind you to the practical challenges.

  4. But…hype can challenge status quo

    • Hype can also be a good thing if it challenges the status quo. But it needs to be aligned with hard thinking about how to proceed with a clear plan, realistic expectations and accountability.

  5. Innovating in a risk-averse industry

    • Shipping’s innovators need to address the particular challenge of driving technological change in a risk-averse industry with a compliance-based culture.