Transforming technology and the shape of shipping in 2030
27 Jun

Transforming technology and the shape of shipping in 2030

Nobody knows what the maritime world will be like in 2030, which is well within the working life of a ship which is nicely run in today. Perhaps more importantly, it is well within the working life of a person who has just qualified as a ship’s officer or even started a cadetship.

There are “events”, which throw the most carefully thought-through strategies of both people and the companies they work for off course and make nonsense of their decisions. Never mind fifteen years ahead, you only have to look the same distance astern to see what a very different world it was at the beginning of the millennium.

Does that mean you should not even attempt to plan, to properly anticipate or to try and assess how your business and indeed individuals should be placed in the future? That really would mean that you really were at the mercy of these events, with no “Plan B”! Which is why we should welcome the use of scenarios and the identification of early warnings that might divulge the first signs of a meaningful trend.

Lloyd’s Register, in combination with QinetiQ and the University of Southampton has published its Global Marine Technology Trends for 2030 and these offer a number of interesting insights into how the industry will develop. It is valuable because it is not just looking at the world of future ships, but considering how so much non-marine technology might be imported into the maritime domain.

It does not pretend to provide hard and fast strategies – rather it offers valuable evidence-based suggestions of what technology development might bring in the medium term. If one is considering investment or career plans, these are “indicators” that could help to devise a tentative road map. It is called “horizon scanning” and is a methodology which might help to reduce the three spectres of uncertainty, ambiguity and complexity, somewhat, at least!

So within fifteen years, we may indeed see what they describe as “TechnoMax” ships emerging from shipyards, packed with new materials, sophisticated systems, chattering away to their owners’ offices with floods of Big Data and able to deliver more precision and efficiency. But maybe these clever products themselves do not represent the most important lesson to come out of these studies. Rather it is the encouragement to be open minded to new ideas, to remain interested in technology right across the board, but above all, to be flexible.

Can you build in a greater degree of retrofit-ability into new ships, so that they can accommodate future innovation and do not swiftly become technically redundant? Can you avoid putting all your eggs into one basket, so that a blip in one trade does not wipe out the whole business? And in that technology depends upon having the right people available to work it, can the necessary skills be assembled, so that advantage be taken of the technological changes that otherwise may prove elusive? So horizon scanning surely has a human component, which will see the best prepared operators skilled in talent spotting and the development of the careers of capable people. The marine industry, it is said, is not good at anticipating the demands for talent, preferring to poach. That surely needs to change.

There really is no such thing as being “future-proof”, but it is probably better to have a more flexible approach, albeit with a cash cushion in the bank (as illustrated by the practices of all the best Greek ship owners), in case events conspire against you. Transformative technology will require such strategies!

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