The digital society and the connected ship

24 November 2017

Rupert Pearce CEO, Inmarsat

  • maritime

  • global-xpress

Inmarsat has been synonymous with the global maritime industry since our foundation by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to help protect the lives of mariners. Almost 40 years on, we remain dedicated to our original humanitarian mission, but in many other respects we have evolved out of all recognition. We have invested billions in delivering new services and enhanced capabilities. We have expanded into new markets and developed an ecosystem of partners that is unmatched in the world of satellite communications.

In a new world of hyperconnectivity, we are all engaged in the birth of the digital society. While its effects have been seen for a number of years across many land-based industries, its true impact and its real benefits are only now being experienced within maritime. I believe that the opportunities open to the maritime industry will be as great, and as unexpected, as we have seen in other sectors.

Satellite communications is the critical enabler of change. It enables the core capabilities the digital society demands: untethered mobility, seamless coverage, continuous reliability, precision navigation, and high levels of cyber security. The opportunities are numerous and constantly expanding. At the highest level, it offers a greater degree of visibility on vessel and cargo position and performance, which in turn produces tangible metrics that may be shared with the customers of ship owners and managers, as well as with other stakeholders.

Enhancing the value proposition

The world of the connected ship that we and our partners at the Norwegian Maritime Competence Center envisage is one in which the continuous flow of data from a vessel to the shore not only provides specific, measurable benefits but also captures, analyses and shares information with key internal and external stakeholders. This wealth of data can, in turn, provide the insight necessary to develop new ways of working, and new ways of enhancing the value proposition for the end customer.

At the operational level, one increasingly popular benefit is the ability to continually and cost-effectively monitor the main engine and associated systems and, through this, to derive real-time vessel performance data. The use of applications such as passage planning and weather routeing for optimal sailing can also contribute to a more profitable voyage. Greater availability of bandwidth also plays a vital role in bridge procedures, whether for navigation and situational awareness or security of physical and cyber assets.

It is important to stress that the era of the connected ship and even the remotely operated vessel does not signal the end for competent seafarers, nor their counterparts ashore, but it does signal large scale changes.

Attracting the millennial generation

Attracting and retaining high quality crew – especially among the millennial generation – is increasingly dependent on the quality of life that the ship owner can offer them while at sea. This means enabling them to continue their personal cyber lives with access to social media and other consumer applications via onboard broadband. Shipping organisations, as well as the largest managers and owners, now accept that providing crew connectivity is a vital component in managing seafarers’ mental health and welfare.

Onshore too, ship managers, owners and operators are braced for change from the era of connectivity. Many have quickly understood the commercial opportunities afforded through better and faster reporting – as well as the need to source new skills. Several specialist companies already exist to support data capture and interpretation and some Norwegian shipping companies are already employing data scientists to help them understand and act on the information they are collecting.

The differentiating factor

The leading players in the shipping industry are already adjusting to what they perceive as changed trading conditions and have recognised the need for a more differentiated, less commoditised approach to their operations. In an environment in which end customers have a choice of ship operator, which are they most likely to adopt – the company that functions according to a pre-digital business model or one that has embraced the new opportunities afforded by ubiquitous, high-throughput connectivity to deliver enhanced reporting, compliance and crew benefits?

Once seen as merely a cost to be endured, satellite connectivity is now becoming the differentiating factor that can transform the commercial opportunities and profitability of those maritime companies – both ship owners and their suppliers –who see how the world beyond their industry is transforming. These companies understand that there are immediate benefits, which can boost their bottom line today. They also appreciate that, while the future is hard to predict, by embracing the digital society they will be best placed to take advantage of what this new world of the connected ship brings.


About the author

rupert bioRupert Pearce joined Inmarsat in January 2005 as Group General Counsel and, from January 2009, additionally held the position of Senior Vice President, Inmarsat Enterprises. He became Chief Executive Officer in January 2012. Previously, Rupert worked for Atlas Venture, where he was a partner working with the firm’s European and US investment teams. He was previously also a partner at the international law firm Linklaters, where he spent 13 years specialising in corporate finance, M&A and private equity transactions. Rupert received an MA (First Class) in Modern History from Oxford University and won the 1995 Fullbright Fellowship in US securities law, studying at the Georgetown Law Center. He has been a visiting fellow of the Imperial College Business School, London, lecturing on the school’s Entrepreneurship programme, and is the co-author of Raising Venture Capital (Wiley).