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Meeting the Digital Market’s Demand Through Connectivity – An Interview with Stephen Conley, SES Networks

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Last year, BIMCO and ICS’s Manpower Report forecast a serious gap in the supply of seafarers. Although the report forecasts a growth in marine recruitment, this increase is likely to be overshadowed by an even faster expanding demand.

Meeting these demands, however, comes with challenges, the biggest of which is seafarer and customer expectations. The cruise industry foresees trends emerging in the next 2-3 years which are completely connectivity related; which is why many companies are already adapting and tailoring their services to meet and exceed expectations.

In this interview, Stephen Conley, the Maritime Market Segment Lead at SES Networks, is looking at the opportunities digitalisation enables. Conley has been with SES Networks for over 5 years and is heading the company’s Maritime Market Segment Management, which aims to understand market and customer requirements in order to drive innovation input. Here, Conley addresses the issues that the new market demand creates in recruitment, leadership styles, training and the role of the seafarer and value creation.

KNect365 Maritime: How could the shipping and cruise industry keep on growing and create value both for the customer and for themselves?

Stephen Conley: The days when cruising was a one size fits all holiday have long gone. From destinations to amenity choice, the level of customisation that can now be offered means that cruise has become an aspirational choice for all. At the human level, much of this is being driven by digitally-enabled technologies.

We believe that the next step in this evolution will involve taking these personalised features and elevating them to a new level of responsiveness to guests’ tastes. We’ve seen this through our work with Royal Caribbean, Silverseas, and most recently, Carnival. Carnival’s Medallion is focused on lifestyle engagement to deliver unparalleled guest interactions that will deliver real value in the years to come.

New service innovations, such as SES’s Maritime+, are making VSAT networks simpler to use, inexpensive, and more powerful. This drives even bigger ROI for owners and operators – both in cruise and the wider shipping market – through simple, straightforward access to customisable bandwidth, tailored service level agreements, scalable throughput options, and standardised pricing regardless of region or season of operation.”

KNect365 Maritime: How big a threat is seafarer shortage and how could the industry attract more seafarers, especially the next generation?

Stephen Conley: Back in 2016, BIMCO and ICS estimated that there was a need for an additional 147,500 officers by 2025 to service the world fleet. Plenty has changed since then, but the ongoing need for crew isn’t one of them. At first glance, it might seem like smart ships and automation are the simple answer to seafarer shortages. But we don’t believe this to be the case. Though the roles and responsibilities will likely evolve in the coming years, there will always be strong demand for quality crew. And as long as there are crew, there will be a need for suitable provision for their safety and their welfare.

  1. To ensure a talented pipeline of mariners it is essential that seafarers’ rights under the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 are fully adhered to – in particular, access to communications by ship’s crew.
  2. If they’re looking to effectively recruit the best mariners, lead operators should ask themselves more fundamental questions about how they’re going to provide seafarers with lifestyles that are similar to the ones they can enjoy ashore. Much of that – from the training that’s the bedrock of career growth, to Skyping loved ones from the middle of the Atlantic – can be achieved via the provision of reliable, high performance, and cost-effective data services.

KNect365 Maritime: What training does the next generation of seafarers need to keep up with the ever-changing industry?

Stephen Conley: Ships are becoming more digitalised and reliant upon computerised technology. To ensure that infrastructure investments function safely and at full capacity, it will take seafarers who understand Java or Python and understand four-stroke propulsion or ECDIS. In order to manage this transition, it will require an overhaul of the way that training has traditionally been provided. There is a tremendous opportunity for operators to maximise their crews’ abilities and improve their safety through the provision of targeted, engaging e-learning. Whether it’s through traditional means supplemented by online feedback, or augmented reality training delivered virtually via experts at OEMs, there are data-driven solutions available to upgrade every performance ambition.

Quality training is inherent to best-practice management delivered by the most reputable ship owners and operators. Connectivity that delivers access to cloud based platforms makes training via e-learning, computer based training, videos, and even virtual reality a realistic possibility for the global fleet. Strong connectivity will support increased safety and efficiency, as well as seafarer retention and job satisfaction.

Moreover, communication has always been an essential aspect of good management. In today’s information-enabled shipping industry, almost every form of communication worldwide travels via satellite for part of its journey. This means the provision of reliable, available and high performing satellites is integral to supporting the next generation of captains and chief engineers.

It gives them the tools to optimise trim, fuel consumption, and safety, as well as analytics on crew training, giving them the ability to measure the impact of their connectivity investment on performance in real time. All this means that, when utilised effectively, connectivity is a powerful tool for enabling accurate performance bench marking.

KNect365 Maritime: How is digital technology changing the seafarers’ role? What changes can we expect in 2018?

Stephen Conley: Shipping’s digital transformation is well under way. Exponential data growth is now the norm, and this demand requires scalable connectivity that can deliver better reliability, availability and throughput both on vessels and onshore. Being the only one in the industry to offer a multi-orbit (GEO and MEO) in multiple bands (Ka-, Ku- and C-band), we can flexibly deliver the capacity that ship owners, operators and seafarers need to make better informed commercial decisions, and enable them to remain competitive in an increasingly challenging and commoditised marketplace.

The safe, efficient, and timely operation and maintenance of vessels will always be at the heart of seafarers’ roles. However, we fundamentally believe that everyone, whether on land or sea, deserves to be connected and that access is only the beginning. By continuing to improve the standard of satellite-enabled communications standards through innovation, we can play a vital role in supporting the practical and emotional welfare of the world's 1.5m seafarers. Innovations such as SES’s Maritime+ gives global customers the nimbleness and agility to customise their capacity demands whenever needed, and the peace of mind to focus on making more accurate, evidence based decisions in areas such as route optimisation and condition-based maintenance that can positively affective their route and vessel profitability.

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