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Warning: transformation ahead!

Lloyd's List new chief correspondent shares his outlook on the months and years ahead in shipping

IF YOU are fascinated by shipping, I advise you to tighten your seatbelt because we are about to go on an exciting, invigorating and challenging five-year journey. By the early years of the 2020s, the maritime sector will look and feel very different.

Every profession from broking and agency to management and finance will be transformed; every sector from feeder containers to valemax bulkers via chemical tankers and petroleum gas carriers will be reshaped. Regulators will struggle to keep up, vessel designers will rethink their portfolios, classification will do the work of consultancies, and consultancies will drive forward our thinking about data and analytics.

At one level, such a frenetic pace of change will threaten the way our business is organised. There will undoubtedly be redundancies, especially among those who are unwilling or unable to embrace change. However, at another level, this transformation will resemble a change of gear. The pace of activity will no longer be linked to the operating speed of our ship; instead it will reflect the connectedness of our data. It will be more significant than the change from sail to steam, or from coal to oil. And it will require a new way of doing maritime business.

Such a transformation is overdue. Other industries are a step or two ahead of shipping when it comes to digital disruption, and they have attracted bright new talent who saw ambitious goals and their own part in adding value to their customers. Shipping has long lamented that the very best talent goes elsewhere, in spite of wonderful opportunities within the business. That’s about to change. The coming half-decade of transformation demands skills and abilities from outside shipping. I have no doubt there will be plenty in the way of disruptive operating technologies, emissions reduction through remote monitoring, and linking with the wider logistics chain both upstream and downstream for the next generation to tackle.

What about the human element? Contrary to so much that is being said and written, there is still a critical role to be played by professionally trained and experienced people from all over the world. An autonomous ship need not mean an unmanned ship, although the work on board will be different; a shipbroker will still be required to advise clients on getting the best deal; partnerships of skills will be brought together to work on specific projects; senior managers will still be asked to set challenging goals. We’ll need fewer people when machines remove the routine tasks, nevertheless shipping will continue to be the business of people who are transforming maritime logistics.

As a people business, shipping will need more than data. Conferences, seminars and other events are wonderful opportunities for networking because words — spoken and written — are the glue that brings people together. Lloyd’s List, long respected for its role in reporting news, offering comment and challenging assumptions, is recognised as the voice of shipping. We should not expect the media to be passed over by five years of transformation, even so there is something reassuring that a publication born in a London coffee house, where the Georgian insurance, trading and shipping leaders met to do business is still the place of record, comment and challenge. 

A year ago, after the UK’s European Union referendum result became clear, one of the Financial Times’ comment writers asked: “What on earth happened there?” As the age of transformation gets underway, Lloyd’s List will ensure shipping’s business leaders are at the forefront of change, and the next generation catches the vision of excitement and inspiration.

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