Digitization and Automation in the Maritime Supply Chain

On 31 May, CBS Maritime in close collaboration with the Transport Innovation Network (TINV) hosted a lively and engaging conference on Digitization and Automation in the Maritime Supply Chain

Digitization and automation have recently become hot topics among companies and organizations in the global maritime supply chain. Discussions center around such different notions as autonomous ships, fully automated ports, digitized shipping information and documentation, automatic monitoring of vessels and equipment, and more. In order for the fully autonomous ship to be a possible and realistic solution for the international transportation of goods in the future, there are a number of challenges to consider.

Digitization and Automation in the Maritime Supply Chain Conference

The conference brought together researchers and industry participants to discuss important challenges and opportunities for companies in the maritime industry in relation to autonomous ships and ports and, more broadly, digitization in the maritime supply chain. Focus was on the transition from manned to autonomous ships, and addressing questions about time horizon and transition, risk and reward distribution, allocation of responsibility, cyber security, laws and regulation, as well as the business models and management systems needed to accommodate the changes.

Key take-aways from the conference

  • The regulatory framework will be a decisive factor for the development and adoption of autonomous ships. Unmanned ships will require a new regulatory setup. National regulation allows for building and testing autonomous ships, as one example from Norway demonstrated. At a global level, however, the international regulation may become a hindrance due to the slow implementation of new conventions and laws.
     
  • There is a need for more research about the business models needed to accommodate the underlying technological innovations within the industry, and beyond. In order for the development towards more digitization and automation to make sense from a business perspective, the strategic and organizational decisions need to be financially viable.
     
  •  We do not know what the winning technology will be or who will provide it, but whoever can change the demand of the industry and take the complexity out of the supply chain may benefit from digitalization and new technology. The first step towards digitalization is the digitization [HS1] of information and documentation. Before this is achieved the next step cannot be taken.
     
  • The participants discussed to what extent digitization and automation in shipping is in fact disruptive. The panelists generally did not believe that we will see any major changes in the industry in the next couple of years. Furthermore, most panelists saw outside actors as the main drivers for change in shipping.