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Maritime Insights: Shipping is ‘awash’ with data. How can we make it more visible, and, in the process, more useful?

From weather data, to vessel specifications and product arrival times, shipping companies amass incredible amounts of data on a daily basis. Yet the importance and value of this information can often be buried in email inboxes or hard to untangle, limiting day-to-day operations.

Here, we speak to our Senior VP of Product and Engineering, Leigh Steed-Middleton, to get his take on the benefits of moving the industry from its traditional setting to make data play a more powerful and valuable role in the maritime workplace. Much of this discussion was brought up earlier this week at Digital Progress’ London Charterers’ and Shipbrokers’ Forum 2023.

Shipping is one of the world’s earliest innovative industries. It has been core to human civilisation and the way in which the world operates for thousands of years. In fact, the first rowed ships were thought to have originated in the fourth millennia BC.

“The transport of people—as well as goods—from one destination to another has influenced cultures, languages, arts, science, trade, politics, and economies the world over”

“The maritime sector is a critical force in driving world trade and the global economy.”

Leigh Steed-Middleton, Senior VP of Engineering and Product at Sedna

Yet, as the world gets more complex, busy, and diverse, so too has the shipping industry. As ships travel worldwide and work around the clock, the sector amasses incredible amounts of data, in all formats, every second. From weather and environment data to location tracking, vessel specifications to product arrival times, and bills of lading to cargo histories, an incredible amount of data is created and orchestrated to facilitate international trade. The majority of this data is also flexible or fluid, regularly changing based on the changing weather patterns, demand for goods, and broader external factors which may be unpredictable or fast-evolving, such as the COVID-19 pandemic or the invasion of the Russia-Ukraine war. The industry has always been data-driven, using insights from real-time information— received on vessels or on shore—to monitor and adapt voyages vessel journeys and plans.

“Given this rapid flow of changing information—provided by a variety of sources—shipping operators and other maritime professionals have to keep up with the fast-paced change of activity to ensure their voyages are not impacted”

“Working on information that may not be up-to-date can result in major challenges and risks to operations at sea, as well as delivery schedules, and customer satisfaction.”

Leigh Steed-Middleton, Senior VP of Engineering and Product at Sedna

‘Lifting the lid’ on complexity

With an ever-increasing amount of diverse data being provided for each maritime transaction from a range of sources—including people, governments, and authorities—shipping professionals can experience information overload. At the same time, they are bound and limited by their office-based tools to speed up their workflows. While email continues to reign supreme as a universal tool for both workplace communication and action, the platform has not been set up to work for the maritime industry. With siloed inboxes, the need to manually search for and file emails, and information also being stored in separate apps and online platforms, we’re operating in a world of data fragmentation, disconnected workflows and slow responsiveness. This creates friction with the speed and efficiency at which a company can operate and limits business performance.

“Given the amount of information that shipping operators and others need to be in receipt of, and the number of voyages that they may be managing, some individuals working across the maritime supply chain may be processing hundreds if not thousands of emails a day”

“The sheer volume of incoming alerts and messages—often hidden in personal inboxes or even still remaining offline, in paper trails accessible only by those with copies—has severe consequences on the speed of operation, team collaboration, risk management, and customer service”.

Leigh Steed-Middleton, Senior VP of Engineering and Product at Sedna

Through ‘lifting the lid’ on the complex shipping data that may be hidden in inboxes, we can transform how shipping companies work to make efficiencies within their operations and improve their competitive advantage.

But, crucially, this means evolving how this data is stored, structured, and made available for instant use.

From data to action

With employees exposed to thousands of data-points, individuals and teams need to have the tools to quickly access the important details, identify the useful bits of information, and then translate this knowledge into action.

Essentially, it means having the ability to tune out the noise and prioritise the bits that really matter – the signal – so that you can work better.

First we have data:

Example of maritime data in emails

It’s complex, it’s messy, it’s documenting a million-and-one things in real-time and it’s hard to keep up on the sheer volume of incoming detail.

You need to identify and extract the important details:

Through getting the platform (rather than the person) to organise and process the data, platforms can automatically detect and extract key data and link this up to other systems.

This means tidying up the data flow and making the process more automatic. For example, at Sedna, we are achieving this through the use of our own AI technology – originally named Shelly and acquired by Sedna in June 2022⁠ – to automate repetitive and manual work tasks and help save businesses time and resources.

The AI works by using custom-built automations to identify the “intent” of an email – from a customer requesting a new quote, to a carrier providing a proof of delivery. It then extracts the important data from the email or attachment and sends that information to other internal systems.

The result: faster customer response time, better data, and less time spent by your operations team manually reviewing emails for the more important tasks.

An essential part of this process is standardising what is available. Once cleaned up, the range of information sources and data-points should be made into a consistent language so that it can be operated on across the board.

This is starting to happen within the maritime industry. Working in partnership with Lloyd’s Register, the Smart Maritime Network recently led the charge to launch a standardised vessel dataset for noon reports (the daily data sheet prepared by the ship) that can be freely applied by any maritime stakeholders to simplify data collection and analysis and create a common data format. This not only frees up time but can help remove human error.

Visualising what it means:

You’ve identified, extracted, and processed the core information – but what next? The way in which the data is presented and visualised is also integral to uptake and usefulness of incoming details.

“You might have the information but if it’s not immediately accessible, easy to interpret, or in one common language, what does it all mean?”, says Steed-Middleton.

Compared to complex and long tables of numbers, charts and graphs must be understandable  to the human eye – and they can be quicker and easier to read and identify trends and conclusions. This is especially important for charterers who may be attending to hundreds of opportunities per day, and need to quickly decipher core information and next steps.

Making it useful:

With this information, it’s then worth exploring what could be done so that it can be actionable, useful, and immediately understood and processed. It could become something where the platform works for you, recognising the data, processing it, and then, through its visual abilities, giving you the quick and instant option of how best to tackle it.

“Ultimately, it means moving away from being buried in the details, and unlocking the power of data to increase safety, speed, and commercial outcomes.”

From manufacturing to cybersecurity, vast global industries are already taking advantage of enhanced data visibility to improve their operations. Now, maritime is fast playing catch-up.

Two thirds of shippers are going digital

While the shipping and broader supply chain sector has long been thought of as technology laggard, the rise of globally spread offices and an increase in remote and hybrid work are resulting in a change to the status quo.

According to a survey conducted this year by S&P Global Market Intelligence—the global corporation delivering business news and market-sector analysis of core industries, including maritime and the supply chain—two-thirds of the 500 shipping companies, logistic providers, or carriers interviewed said that they had a digital transformation strategy to actively digitise their business processes. Nearly all the remaining respondents said they were considering or evaluating a plan.

The rollout of such technologies will allow maritime businesses to benefit from increased access to data (as well as automation). This will be especially important over the next few years as the world adapts to a ‘new normal’ following the pandemic and other challenges. Across many industries, companies are looking to reduce costs as a result of price increases and stay ahead of competition. Building the tools to use data in the most effective way can help such companies drive efficiencies, improve customer service, and keep their competitive edge.

“It’s only a matter of time before all maritime companies are using technologies to expose their hidden datasets and better inform both their day-to-day activities and longer-term plans” notes Steed-Middleton.

“Shipping’s history shows that it is one of the earliest innovators around. Through adopting the technologies and innovations of today, it can further advance its role as the global leader in how we communicate and shape the world.”

Enter: Pulse

We deeply understand the challenges preventing charterers from getting work done efficiently and successfully.

That’s why we’ve taken a bold and confident step forward, continuing to lead the way in digital maritime transformation with Pulse, the AI-driven solution for charterers. 

Sitting on top of your inbox, Pulse shortens the entire market analysis process by consolidating data from multiple systems into one space and displaying it in structured, deduplicated data lists - ready for analysis and further action. 

With Pulse, charterers can unlock vital data and turn it into a competitive advantage, fixing with confidence and acting before the competition.

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