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Digital connectivity: “the nearly instant ability to connect people, devices, and physical objects”

“In terms of digitisation, obviously the most important one is connectivity, particularly from a vessel perspective”, Futurenautics CEO & Futurist KD Adamson told us in an interview.

The advantages are clear from both operational and crewing perspective, yet, there is still a divide between those who have connectivity on their ships and those who don’t. Stephen Conley, Global Maritime Segment Lead at SES Networks, shares the challenges of implementation and explains why connectivity is so crucial for any organisation’s digital transformation.

Historically, what was the biggest challenge in installing connectivity on board? How have these challenges been overcome and what challenges are there still?

Stephen Conley: “Complexity and cost have typically been the biggest challenges when it comes to providing connectivity on-board commercial ships, particularly for smaller cargo and fishing vessels at sea. As a result, ships without internet connectivity often encounter commercial and operational difficulties. One of the most common ones is the retention of crew, who rely on the internet to keep them in touch with their friends and family during long periods at sea.

Our value proposition for merchant shipping allows access to increased throughput with unlimited data volume consumption, and customisable coverage and throughput packages. SES’s multi-orbit and multi-band constellation of interoperable satellites and the combination of GEO wide beams, GEO high-throughput beams (HTS) and MEO constellations deliver a versatile global coverage that provides shipowners and operators the ability to develop scalable, versatile, and hyper-efficient network topologies.

We’re at the threshold of a significant acceleration in what ships are capable of and to achieve the industry’s full potential the right supporting infrastructure needs to be in place.”

What are the opportunities connectivity is unlocking for the maritime industry?

SC: “Digitalisation is transforming global transportation and supply chains, blurring the lines between the shipping and logistics industries and forcing companies to rethink the way they do business. We must not underestimate how much digital is disrupting the nature of competition.

Digitalisation as a key growth driver is dependent upon enterprise-grade connectivity. The price point for this has traditionally been high enough to exclude many. However, prices are much more reasonable today, and SES Networks is seeing companies, large and small, gain tangible benefits from their partnerships with us. Not just from the price of their connectivity, but also in the ways that it’s helping to cut costs in other areas – from reducing the amount of manual work onboard and removing bad process management, to improving crew morale and optimising vessel speeds.

SES Networks sees digital as the nearly instant ability to connect people, devices, and physical objects anywhere. Mining the data created by ships, seafarers, and passengers greatly enhances the power of analytics, which leads directly to dramatically higher levels of productivity — both of processes and, ultimately, of decisions. All this gives birth to brand-new business models that we’re excited to be part of.

What does true connectivity mean for a vessel?

SC: “Access to connectivity is just the beginning. If cost pressures weren’t already enough for the industry, 50% of the workforce will be millennials by 2020, which will magnify expectations of instant, digital service. If you look at the freight forwarding sector, for example, companies like Kuehne + Nagel and DHL are seeing real gains from the digital shift, and disruptive newcomers like Amazon and Alibaba are arriving every day.

If shipping companies are to succeed, they need to be part of the disruption. This isn’t just a change in technology. Businesses are being transformed. Unless you’ve got a clear idea of how you’re going to bring value to the digital economy, you’re going to struggle because that vision is likely to be very different from the status quo.

At SES Networks we fully understand the pressure of meeting quarterly targets while preparing the organisation for the future. Connectivity opens a world of opportunities, but it’s what you do with it that gives it real meaning. That is the heart of opportunity.

Aside from owner and operator solutions, our existing satellite capabilities have the ability to enable a plethora of benefits for the global shipping supply chain, including supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), the Internet of things (IoT) and remote sensing.”

How can you ensure safe digital developments and safety on board in the age of hacks and malware incidents?

SC: “All too often increased levels of maritime efficiency are held back. Not by the technology itself, but by fear of what technology can change. Digital risks have industry-wide implications and as of 1st January 2021, cyber risk management on board ships will become mandatory under the ISM Code for safety management on ships. IT guidelines, education and best practices can mitigate the risks, but the communications architecture must also be well designed to deflect such threats.

Cyber security starts with a mind-set change. SES Networks is used to providing our customers with seamless interoperability and support, and that extends completely into the realm of security. SES Networks is committed to collaborating with industry partners and security experts to create platforms and ecosystems that are secure for them and their data.”

Any questions? Stephen Conley will be joining an online webinar panel on this very subject this October. Register for free!

SES Networks webinar Touchpoints & Interfaces – assessing how disruptive connectivity has impacted the fleet

This webinar is part of the GST & Shipping2030 Digital Week.

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