Changing tack on digitalisation

5 min read
15 Jul 2019
Sarah Hudson

While responsiveness and adaptability are crucial on the high seas, it can be met with scepticism when it comes to the digital world. The results of Wärtsilä’s Digital Solutions 2019 survey give insight into how the industry could better embrace digitalisation to solve its biggest challenges.

It is no secret that maritime is one of global industry’s more traditional sectors. Yet, the results of a survey conducted by Lloyd's List and Wärtsilä Marine Business reveal that even the saltiest of marine players are embracing digitalisation. Notably, almost three-quarters of organisations are already examining digitalisation to solve their current challenges.

However, the feedback also highlights widespread frustration with perceived one-size-fits-all technological solutions and the portrayal of digitalisation as a supposed silver bullet. It is clear from the responses that technology providers need to listen more, explain better and ensure that solutions are tailored and relevant.

Cost and compliance loom large

Conducted in January and February this year, the survey gives a concise snapshot of prevalent attitudes and concerns across the sector. Overall, the results highlight the immense pressure industry players are under from rising costs, increasing economic volatility and tougher risk and regulation obligations.

“Compliance and efficient operations are the highest focus at the moment. It’s a big ask, and everyone is looking at new ways, including using digitalisation, to meet those targets,” explains Jon Nation, General Manager, Marketing, Wärtsilä Marine Business.

However, the industry is also wary of investing in new technologies without evidence of guaranteed outcomes. This is understandable; in shipping, planning, development and change are not straightforward. It should come as no surprise that the risk-averse maritime industry needs to see tangible benefits before widespread commitment to large-scale digitalisation takes hold.

“The response shows that our partners want evidence, and if it’s not explained well, the technology can seem complex,” Nation points out.

In a traditional industry, there are perceived barriers that need to be overcome, he adds. And in a sector, that’s already characterised by uncertainty, suppliers shouldn’t simply shift the burden of understanding onto their clients.

Explain well, listen better

Instead, digital service providers must work harder to ensure that what they offer is relevant and that its value and application is clearly understood. This is something heard loud and clear from survey respondents.

“What we’re finding is that customers are being bombarded with solutions and concepts that can make the future seem complicated,” says Nation.

Effective future-proofing grows from a true partnership, he emphasises. This requires honest communication and genuine collaboration between technology providers and marine customers. This feedback accurately reflects Wärtsilä’s real-world experience with its clients, he adds.

“The best examples of technology being used to concretely help an organisation have taken the form of long-term, collaborative partnerships that focus on the outcomes and needs of customers,” Nation explains.

According to Nation, the results of the survey indicate a need for technology providers to understand that digital solutions must be marketed as ways of supporting and building the business – a means for taking advantage of market opportunities. Maritime players need to feel like they aren’t being told to go digital simply for the sake of it.

It follows that to efficiently address challenges through digitalisation, providers need to truly understand these challenges from the unique perspective of their customer. Like all good partnerships, it’s about listening and speaking a shared language.

Less than a quarter of respondents are “very satisfied” or “completely satisfied” with the digital solutions available to their organisation. The upside to this is that there’s plenty of room for digital service providers to listen, learn and make sure they’re offering the right solutions and explaining them effectively.

Working better together

All in all, the survey offers insight that allows Wärtsilä and other service providers to tailor their approach to the latest industry needs and pain points. Input came from all areas of operations as well as from C-suite, sampling a diverse cross-section of users, operators, implementers and strategy experts.

Understanding how customers view digitalisation allows technology providers to add value, ensuring they have the information and evidence they need to address key challenges.

“It’s our joint responsibility to make solutions comprehensible and relevant to business opportunities,” Nation concludes.

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