The Road to SHIPPING 2030: What’s the Big Idea?

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As change accelerates, future success in shipping and maritime depends on developing a holistic, digital vision, and some big, hairy, audacious goals. The Shipping 2030 conference series is ours,” says K.D. Adamson. As a Futurist, the question I get asked often is, “what’s going to change?”  But the question you should be asking is, “what isn’t going to change?” Many in shipping feel that change is occurring much faster than they’re used to. We’re entering a unique period where a range of global megatrends are combining with new generational mindsets and colliding head-on with a group of breakthrough technologies growing at an exponential rate.

The Rise of New Arenas.  The result is a raft of wholesale disruption that is touching every area of human life including the global economy and the businesses we create. The evidence is that no industry or sector will be immune from digital disruption. In fact, digital is sweeping away the traditional boundaries of what we called vertical markets, what my Futures Agency colleague Gerd Leonhard now describes as Arenas. As technologies move horizontally across organizations we’re seeing traditional silos break down too. HR, Marketing and Procurement could all be using the same underlying technology platform.

Changing Digital Paradigms. Recent research by Gartner shows the movement of IT budget towards other departments and individuals is accelerating. 14% of cloud storage, 13% of social media, and 11% of office productivity software is purchased without the IT department even knowing about it. In fact, IT is no longer the lead purchaser of technology. According to Gartner, the marketing department is the new frontrunner and will outspend the IT department on technology by 2017.  The pressure to survive and thrive in this new digital paradigm is enormous, but some industries are better equipped than others to meet the challenges. Shipping is often described as being backward when it comes to technology.  “Operating in the stone age,” was how one analyst described it.

Shipping’s Definition of Technology. It includes artificial intelligence to smart materials, 3D printing and nuclear fusion. But shipping’s definition of technology has tended to be narrower, and bound up almost exclusively in engineering terms. On that measure, shipping has seen technological advancement, but the kind of specific domain engineering expertise that is not the “technology” the rest of the commercial world has been steadily adopting over the past decades. In contrast, it’s the kind of technology that is based on digital operation, efficiencies, data, analysis and collaborative working, and underpinning all of that is connectivity. That is why shipping has lagged other industries, because it’s been handicapped by the expense and complexity of deep sea connectivity, dividing it from data, assets and its people, and from the technology platforms and applications which have driven innovations for others.

The Value of Connectivity. When you put this “expensive” airtime into the overall context of operating the multi-million pound assets that ships represent, for the average Inmarsat user it equates to less than 1% of operating costs which brings you to the real crux of the matter.  Connectivity, the gateway to all the digital operation, efficiencies and insight that other industries know to be essential, has continued to be viewed simply in cost terms in the shipping industry. The real question is not how much connectivity costs, but how much value it can deliver for the enterprise. Yet, suppliers are still talking to IT departments about connectivity where cost is the only metric, when it is other departments like marketing, procurement, and HR that could realize genuine value and competitive advantage from enterprise-grade connectivity. As Gartner indicates, they are beginning to spend more on technology than IT is.

Facing the Digital Transformation. Together with the unique challenges of the harsh domain in which we operate, shipping and maritime companies lag other industries on the road to digital transformation, and that’s the case on both an individual organization and broader industry level.

Futurenautics has been working hard to identify and contextualize the technology and wider trends shipping needs to understand to effect a fast and successful digital transformation, but that’s hard when the industry doesn’t approach digital in a holistic way. There are plenty of narrowly focused conferences in the maritime industry where subjects like connectivity, big data, analytics, autonomy, and sustainability pop-up in isolation, but that just isn’t enough. The evidence is that successfully navigating the digital future requires an organizational vision, plan and appetite, and real direction from the top. These are dangerous times for big, well-resourced incumbent companies in every industry. Falling technology costs and access to scalable platforms are leveling the playing field for lean, agile start-up companies with big ideas which are threatening to undercut, out-maneuver and in some cases, disinter-mediate the legacy organizations.

The Bigger Picture.  It isn’t just about technology. Technology can enable the competitive advantage, but it won’t be the advantage in and of itself. What’s really required is an innovative mindset to find the new ideas and make new collaborations often in unexpected places. You could say that Futurenautics’ partnership with KNect365 to create the Shipping 2030 conference series is kind of an example of that, because one of the most profound changes will be around what we’ve traditionally understood to be the rules of competition and value creation. The energy and resources wasted in competing on everything can be far outweighed by the value created by collaborating with each other towards a shared objective. The world it serves is undergoing a major shift, but shipping is so used to analyzing threats and opportunities within its narrow silo that it’s missing the bigger picture. From internal processes to asset optimization and utilization, smarter product development, maintenance, business development, and delivering, digital innovation offers huge opportunities.

The Need for Big Ideas. With intelligent transport and logistics systems, ubiquitous connectivity, data and analytics, autonomous vehicles, and unprecedented transparency of operations, shipping needs some innovative big ideas. Finding them requires 360° thinking, approaching the connected future holistically, understanding our suppliers, our customers, and their customers, the new consumers.  Connecting people, with technology, ideas and each other, from ship operators to customers, suppliers, start-ups and regulators, will enable companies to be more agile, collaborative, knowledgeable, attractive to new talent, and guide them as they invest in the digital infrastructure and competence they need to thrive in the future. I’ve been saying this for a while, so I’m really delighted to be part of this event, one whose purpose is to provide the platform that shipping needs to share the big ideas and accelerate its speed of innovation.  That’s what’s known as a “big, hairy, audacious goal,” the touchstone for rudely successful companies in the digital era.  If you haven’t got one, come to Singapore in November and let’s help you find it.

K.D. Adamson is a Futurist, an expert in digital paradigms, exponential technology, global megatrends, and generational mindsets on business and society. As CEO of Futurenautics, she is the world’s foremost ‘blue’ domain futurist, author, presenter, and keynote speaker. Go to or Twitter @KDAdamson