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From the News Desk: Virus spurs shipping’s digitalisation

Our Special Report on digitalisation and data lays out the substantial benefits shipping can claim if it is bold enough — but also the risks

Coronavirus may be the cultural push shipping has long needed to spur its digitalisation. How well operators manage this transition could be the difference between the industry’s next winners and losers

SHIPPING is coming to terms with data, at long last. The pandemic has made online operations not just desirable but vital. It may have given the industry its much-needed cultural push into the digital age.

But as our Special Report on Digitalisation and Data makes clear this week, taking these first steps presents challenges as well as opportunities.

Shipping’s new willingness to change is welcome, but it is only the first step. With more data will come questions over its access, security and ownership.

Container carriers have moved ahead of a slow pack. After two years, the Digital Container Shipping Association recently came out with its first significant standard, for digital bills of lading.

Once shipping has the data, it must put it to work. Operators that make sense of how to analyse and integrate digital systems into their operations stand to gain the most.

But shipowners are not the types to queue outside an Apple shop; maritime tech companies cannot expect them to flock to technology for its own sake. To succeed, tech providers must show how their products solve practical problems.

The threat of cyber attacks will also grow as more systems are brought online and into hackers’ sights. IMO2021 rules will nudge operators to get their digital houses in order, but recent attacks show mere compliance is not enough and ignorance no excuse.

For most reading this, the biggest change of 2020 will have been the shift to working from home — a change that, like it or not, looks increasingly permanent.

Working from home can be easy to do, but harder to love. Bosses hope it could improve shipping’s gender balance and diversity. But they also worry it will stifle new ideas and hold back the next generation of leaders.

And if anyone is wary of losing the human touch, it is those keeping ships safe. The pandemic has pushed more inspections online, but how many will stay there when the crisis is over remains to be seen.

Download the full report here. To hear about it instead, go to The Lloyd’s List Podcast.

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