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A new reality is evolving in maritime tech, says Wärstilä Voyage chief

The buzz phrases of the past are being pushed aside. Tech businesses are in a battle to recruit specialist expertise while educating their customers about what can be done with data and analytics


FIVE years ago, it all sounded pretty easy. Create a connected digital ecosystem on board, gather a steady stream of data from sensors, send the required data via satellite to the operations centre ashore, enable ship to work with shore to optimise performance. Job done.

But reality has kicked in. Apparently, shipping is a little more complex than we had thought. Some maritime businesses have invested in advanced technology — and in the specialist talent needed to get the technology to work efficiently and reliably. But others continue to regard smart shipping as a fantasy. Not quite smoke and mirrors, perhaps mist and reflections.

Tech businesses are now much more aware of the need to do two things: listen to their customers’ expectations; and educate them about whether or not those expectations can be accommodated.

Wärtsilä Voyage president Sean Fernback has responded to the industry’s slow journey to decarbonisation by going back to basics. The buzz words have been pushed aside, the focus has shifted from the innovation itself to the customer, and the dots are being connected between the ship, automation, navigation, and propulsion.

In this podcast, which looks at the future of technology in maritime, Mr Fernback discusses why Wärtsilä has chosen to work in partnership with some players, while seeking opportunities to collaborate with others. He acknowledges that the business can’t build the entire ecosystem alone, so will likely focus on core expertise.

He explains why the relatively limited number of ships, and limited amount of data available, will encourage tech businesses to share their resources in spite of the prevailing competitive spirit. And he addresses the tussle for tech talent in which shipping is losing the battle of the pay cheques.

“Marine is at the bottom of the digitalisation curve compared to other industries,” he says, and is likely to stay behind in the race for tech talent — with the shining exceptions of cruise shipping and the larger container lines — until the next generation of digital natives replaces the digital laggards.

Finally, Mr Fernback reveals new thinking about the future. “We are moving away from the ideal that Asia has to align with Europe — probably the other way round.” Not before time, some would say.

A fascinating insight into the potential and pitfalls in the rapidly evolving world of maritime tech.

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