The Futurenauts: Roger Adamson

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As part of our mission to chart shipping and maritime’s technology-enabled future, we have profiled many of the people shaping that future, writes Amy Berry. In this, the last issue of the Maritime Future magazine we speak to the person responsible for it, Futurenautics Maritime CEO, Roger Adamson.

A well-known maritime industry face Roger originally hoped to join the Royal Navy, but eventually trained as a naval architect before focussing on the then brand-new satcoms system Inmarsat-C for his PhD at Liverpool University. Asked by Inmarsat to run their Partners programme Roger began a long career in maritime satellite connectivity and technology, as CEO of several maritime technology companies, and was one of the founders of e-procurement platform Setfair.com.

Following several years as a consultant researching and analysing the shipping and maritime industry Roger moved to take the helm of Futurenautics Maritime at its founding in 2013. Since then the name Futurenautics has become synonymous with some of the most cutting-edge thinking, research and advisory in the maritime industry. I asked him where the big opportunities might lie for shipping in the future, and what he does on his days off. This is what he had to say.

 

Futurenautics: What is Futurenautics Maritime, who does it work with, and what does it do?

Roger Adamson: Futurenautics Maritime is the specialist shipping and maritime division of Futurenautics Group which has been operating since 2013.

Back then I could see that there was a significant gap opening up between shipping and maritime companies and those in other industries in terms of technology capabilities and deployment, and recognition of the need for digital transformation. Having spent my career in shipping and maritime ICT and undertaken so much research and consultancy I felt that we were in a unique position to help the industry identify and contextualise the threats and opportunities.

In addition to a huge range of publications, including this magazine and many White Papers, we hold roundtables, undertake and publish major industry survey reports, both independently and on behalf of clients, and speak at events around the world. The other major part of my work is consulting and advisory work, from M&A due diligence to strategy development and implementation. As far as clients are concerned we don’t tend to discuss them, but I can say that we work with some of the most prominent and forward-thinking companies in the industry and beyond, and it’s an honour to do so.

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Futurenautics: How do you help to drive digital transformation within shipping and maritime companies? Are there common challenges to overcome? 

Roger Adamson: Many companies believe that digital transformation is an issue of technology adoption and deployment but that’s not the case. Digitisation is not the same as transformation.

There are still many maritime and shipping organisations who think that making their existing operations digital, automating processes and becoming more efficient is the objective.

That’s one element, but a paradigm shift like this requires a degree of reimagination. Kate (K D Adamson, futurist and founder of Futurenautics Group) is always telling people that what every organisation needs is a digital vision, and that’s correct. So we work with companies both to really drive that reimagination and create the digital vision via our 360° Blue workshops, but then we also help to validate assumptions, look at the concept, capabilities and assets the organisation has and needs together with any research necessary to support the new strategy.

Following that I also work closely with companies to help them to stay on track in terms of implementation.

 

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Futurenautics: Which do you think are the most potentially disruptive digital businesses in shipping and maritime at the moment? 

Roger Adamson: One of my jobs is to identify promising and potentially disruptive start-ups entering the market and also working to help big incumbent companies either partner with or acquire them, and there are some really interesting companies around at the moment.

What we often see with start-ups however is that they haven’t understood where their product or service brings value in this very complex industry. It’s one of the reasons that Futurenautics Maritime always makes its publications and data free whenever humanly possible.

It isn’t just about an interesting piece of technology or offering though, it’s about the people involved. What we are increasingly trying to help create is new ecosystems, and that requires an unusual degree of trust between leaders. It isn’t all about disrupting, it’s about collaborating to build something different and better.

 

‘We’re increasingly trying to help create ecosystems and that requires an unusual degree of trust between leaders. It isn’t all about disrupting, it’s about collaborating to build something different and better.

 

Futurenautics: A few years ago there were no Chief Digital Officers in the shipping and maritime industry, but they’re appearing in increasing numbers now, and often from outside shipping and maritime. Is this a sign that digital transformation is really on the agenda? 

Roger Adamson: I think it is a sign that digital transformation is on the agenda, and we’re fortunate to know a lot of the new CDOs who have come into the industry who are very good indeed.

But there is a danger that some companies assume hiring a CDO means they’ve ticked the digital transformation box. Really successful digital transformation isn’t the responsibility of any one executive or board member and there have been instances where the CDO is recruited too early, and then expected to drive change before digital infrastructure and vision is really in place.

Every company is different and every CDO has a different set of skills so there’s no right or wrong time to hire one, but what’s essential is that everyone has clarity on what the objectives and deliverables are.

 

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Futurenautics: The third platform—social, mobile, analytics, cloud and the IoT—is supporting the burgeoning Intelligent Digital Mesh. Is there a danger that maritime concentrates too much on the industrial IoT, when there are an exponentially increasing number of diverse endpoints (devices, people etc.) with real-time data that we should be leveraging

Roger Adamson: There is a tendency in the maritime industry to concentrate on technical data and the industrial IoT and although that’s very important it’s only part of the opportunity.

The Intelligent Digital Mesh is generating massive unstructured datasets which could be utilised in all sorts of ways to create new offerings and different business models, but what’s often missing is the expertise and competence within shipping and maritime companies which will allow them to capitalise.

There’s also the fact that at a basic level you have to start capturing this data first and that depends on connectivity – not just to and from vessels but everywhere. For many shipping companies, that’s still a challenge.

 

Futurenautics: What’s the next big disruption that’s going to hit the shipping industry and who will it most affect?

Roger Adamson: I think there’s a new area of opportunity opening up and it’s related to the Intelligent Digital Mesh, the IoT and blockchain.

Kate expands on it in the ‘Bulb-Lite Moment’ feature this issue, it’s what IBM have termed the ‘Economy of Things’ which sees each endpoint of the IoT become an agent of value creation. If those endpoints are smart then we could see the development of highly-efficient digital marketplaces which could rent out processing power to help run blockchains, for example.

That could turn ships from assets into digital infrastructure, changing the value proposition completely.

 

Futurenautics: Futurenautics Maritime is well-known for its research reports, what’s coming up in 2018 that’s exciting?

Roger Adamson: The really big research report which will launch in Q1 of 2018 is the Crew Connectivity Survey Report which this time around has more than 5,000 serving seafarer respondents.

It’s unquestionably the biggest seafarer survey in the industry and I’m so pleased that thanks to supportive sponsorship, we’re able once again to make the entire report and dataset available free of charge across the industry.

The 2015 survey has now been downloaded more than 30,000 times, and this new report has fascinating new data on cyber security, attitudes to technology and automation in it. I think it’s going to be of real value and I’m grateful to all the organisations who helped to push out the questionnaire once again.

We’ve also got another groundbreaking research project we’re working on now, so I’m looking forward to commencing that in 2018 too.

 

Futurenautics: People might not realise that in addition to working with ships and shipping you’re also a marine artist. Have you always drawn and painted ships?

Roger Adamson: Yes, ships are all I was ever interested in drawing and they still are, although I struggle to find the time these days. I completed a series to mark the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic in 2012 which I really enjoyed. The research was fascinating on its own.

Fortunately the rest of the family also likes pictures of ships so we have a few of mine on the walls at home, together with greats like Steven Dews and Montague Dawson.

 

 

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Titanic leaves for sea-trials, 1911, (top) and under construction in Belfast, (above) pen and ink drawings by Roger Adamson from a series to commemorate the centenary of the liner’s sinking in 2012.

 

Futurenautics: What was the last piece of technology – consumer, industrial or professional – which made you say “Wow!”?

Roger Adamson: Both my daughters have mastered the on-switch, but struggle with the off-switch. Thanks to the magic of the Internet of Things I am now able to switch the lights off in their bedrooms from just about anywhere on earth. Wow.

 

Images courtesy © Getty Images/Roger Adamson

This article appeared in the Q4 2017 issue of Futurenautics.

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