Classic Mistake

Spread_Classic_MistakeExpecting a Eureka moment to solve shipping’s innovation problem is a mistake, but building the right intellectual infrastructure and widening the pool of ideas might, says Kirsi Tikka

Conversations about technology, innovation and disruption have become commonplace in the shipping industry, but often the outcome is a good headline or snappy sound bite rather than something we can apply in practice.

There are a number of reasons for this. The first is that we are an industry that is driven more by short-term market fundamentals than by the application of new ideas—at least in ship design, construction and operation.

Traditionally, the impetus to change has been regulatory or evolutionary rather than innovation-driven. These changes include the introduction of specialized ships, such as containerships and gas carriers, improved cargo handling and economies of scale.

We are now faced with much more disruptive innovation—from automation and big data analytics—but to some extent we need a roadmap to this future, mainly because it involves leadership and expertise not commonly found in our industry.

If we are to do something different, more disruptive, ultimately more sustainable, the question is how do we do it, and who is going to drive it?

Collaboration could be an answer, but the stakeholders are worried about losing their competitive edge if they share ideas; they are in business for a reason, and intellectual property is valuable.

Perhaps the reality is that shipping has always been too fragmented for the take-up of really new ideas; there are only two major civilian aircraft manufacturers, but here it appears to encourage innovation.

Shipping needs a strategy, and this is not just a vanity project. It is required to tackle operational issues and regulatory challenges and to find ways of being more competitive while remaining environmentally and financially sustainable.

It seems inevitable that the next generation of ships will feature more monitoring, control and intervention from the shore side than ever before. This means class has to evolve with the industry, taking advantage of the potential that technology offers.

We should recognise disruption and be prepared to ‘think different’ about how we respond.

The glue holding these elements together is data. But although big data is a reality, collectively we are still figuring out how to best apply it. There are plenty of stories of increased volumes of data collected from ships without a clear strategy of how to manage and act on the results. The bigger need is a means of harnessing these kinds of discrete elements into a future innovation strategy. If we are to do something different, more disruptive, but ultimately more sustainable, the question is how do we do it and who is going to drive it?

Class has a fundamental role to play, and the steps we are taking will enable us to move sustainably towards an industry that is smarter and safer. Smart use of data means class can be less intrusive and more predictive in the way we work with industry and less bound by calendar-driven events. But to make safety decisions based on data, we need to be confident of its quality and reliability.

The bigger truth we need to confront is that shipping is a relatively small circle of people who tend to think alike. The circle of input and ideas is too small and too focussed on incremental improvements to make the kind of changes we will need in another decade and beyond.

Innovators don’t think like that. I don’t imagine Google is really interested in automobiles. What it wants is a platform for its technology and perhaps there is a similar opportunity in shipping?

Fundamentally, we appear to lack the intellectual infrastructure to build a long-term innovation strategy. We have plenty of associations, professional bodies and internal champions, but innovation seems always to be left to the market.

If we are truly to tackle the challenge, the shipping industry needs to embrace ‘open innovation’ and a much wider pool of ideas and influences. We should recognise disruption and be prepared to ‘think different’ about how we respond.

More and more companies are doing this, complementing in-house research with input from start-ups, universities, research institutions and customer pools. Class could play an important role here, providing a platform for new ideas, or acting as an incubator for innovation.

Innovation does not come in eureka moments. Albert Einstein predicted the existence of Gravity Waves a century ago. Proof of his prediction came after 50 years of trial and error and 25 years of perfecting a set of instruments sensitive enough to identify them.

In doing so, scientists proved a fundamental principle of scientific enquiry and the pursuit of ideas: the future is not something you travel to, it’s something you create.

Images credit © Getty Images

Kirsi_578Kirsi Tikka is Executive Vice President, Global Marine at ABS. Prior to her appointment, Kirsi served as the Division President for Europe and Africa, and as Vice President and Chief Engineer. She is a native of Finland and holds a Doctorate in Naval Architecture and Offshore Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, and a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and Naval Architecture from the University of Technology in Helsinki. Before joining ABS in 2001, Kirsi was professor of Naval Architecture at Webb Institute in New York. She has also worked for Chevron Shipping in San Francisco and for Wärtsilä Shipyards in Finland.




This article appeared in the April 2016 issue of Futurenautics.


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