There is no doubt that the pandemic has made the shipping industry realize the importance of seafarers. But, the need for digitization for seafarers tends to be overlooked due to various misconceptions.
The significance of digitization is set to radically change how the maritime industry functions. While the speed of digitization in the maritime industry has accelerated by 3 years in the past year, many advances were made on tools that are designed for shore teams. However, the processes and tools remained to be outdated for seafarers. This combination has added additional complications to seafarers’ day-to-day operations.
There is no doubt that the pandemic has further emphasized the importance of seafarers. But, the need for digitized tools for seafarers remains overlooked due to various misconceptions.
There seems to have been a misconception that digitization in the maritime industry means unmanned shipping. With the current speed of technology development, it will take a long time before jobs like inspection, ship mooring, emergencies can be handled without seafarers. In the meanwhile, much maintenance has to be done on board, and using a maintenance berth every 2 months would be prohibitively expensive.
With 1.89 million seafarers powering a growing world fleet of almost 100,000 vessels globally, having a strong seafarer workforce will directly impact a shipping company’s profitability and market share.
Misconception 2: Seafarer’s job is functional, and digitization would not add value
A Gallup survey in 2018 revealed that a connected workforce leads to a 17% increase in productivity, a 21% increase in profitability, and a 40% reduction in employee turnover.
The elephant in the room about seafarers’ work is that they are spending a large part of their time collecting, organizing, and passing on information. With shipping regulations being improved and covering more and more aspects, primitive tools like paper, pen, and excel sheets simply can not support a heavier workload.
On the other hand, more than 60% of middle management's time is spent on administrative tasks such as obtaining and verifying information from frontline workers such as seafarers. This inefficient use of time results in a huge waste of the expertise of middle managers, such as superintendents.
Based on the experience of Kaiko Systems, digitizing inspection processes with a mobile App saves up to 50% of seafarers’ time spent on inspections. This represents more than 20 hours per month saved and is available for high-value tasks. On the other hand, automating the data standardization and verification has been saving a superintendent’s time by 30%. This means that one superintendent can manage more vessels in less time. Not only the reliability of data has drastically increased, their focus that leverages expertise such as incidence prevention has increased.
Misconception 3: Seafarers are resistant to new technologies
Mobile-first communication & computing is the norm across all nations. People are used to managing many aspects of their lives using mobile phones. This applies to seafarers too. As a matter of fact, many seafarers see their careers as a continuous learning process and actually embrace this element. They are open to new technology, and they want to be able to use technologies to have control over their work. They also believe or hope that human-machine systems can relieve them of certain kinds of work and uncertainty, without the technology being a burden to them. This means the barrier for employers to introduce seafarers digital tools is rather low, and having digitized tools for seafarers can also increase their happiness and engagement.
Misconception 4: Digitization may decrease the need for qualified seafarers
Germany firstly introduced production robots in 1972. Despite large-scale automation and robotic production being applied widely in the following decades, there were around 470k people working in automobile production in 2020. This figure has remained stable with an increasing trend during the last four decades.
For the shipping industry, in the past two decades, the number of ships has increased by more than 80%, and there is still a forecasted growth in the world merchant fleet over the next ten years. An analysis of ICS/BIMCO proposes that the demand for officers will increase by around 10% every five years. With the fact that fleets are getting bigger with larger vessels, seafarers are getting promoted faster but not necessarily with more expertise, an effective set of processes and tools for seafarers become more urgently needed than ever.
At the essence, the role of digital technologies is to assist humans with heavy and/or repetitive tasks. It means that tedious, repetitive tasks should be automated, so humans can focus on making complex decisions. This then will inevitably increase the value seafarers bring to the organization, transform their work, and change how they are perceived. Hence, the digitized workflow will not take away seafarer jobs but a hybrid combination of human and computer will increase the job quality done by seafarers.
Current trends and developments indicate a gradual shift. Digitization will not be disruptive for seafarers but further development on productivity and safety. Companies with a digitized seafarer workforce will possess competitive advantages on growth and market authority.