The maritime software market is brimming with a raft of vendors offering a slew of technologies for data-driven operational efficiencies that are required for around half of the emissions cuts necessary to reach the IMO goal of zero-carbon shipping by 2050. But this can create confusion when selecting software and proper vendor evaluation is vital for healthy technology adoption, says OrbitMI.

Research firm Thetius has forecast the global maritime digital products and services market will more than double over this decade to be worth $345bn by 2030 as the number of software vendors has tripled in recent years to over 550 players seeking to capitalize on industry demand.

A bewildering array of different digital applications are on offer from multiple vendors covering areas such as vessel performance monitoring, voyage management and optimization, navigation, cargo and vessel tracking, port operations, logistics and procurement, and document handling.

While it appears ship owners may be spoiled for choice, OrbitMI Head of Customer Success Aina Huseby says the reality is “the crowded and confusing software marketplace is extremely challenging for them to navigate.” This, combined with business uncertainties over the criteria for technology adoption and automation needs, can make it difficult to select the right solution that meets their requirements, she says.

Vendor credibility and longevity

“As well as making sense of the market, a further challenge is to assess the credibility and longevity of software vendors. Long-term vendor relationships are necessary to ensure digital solutions are sustainable, scalable, and adaptable in line with changing business needs to make them future-proof as the industry evolves,” Huseby explains.

She points out it can be risky to base your software selection solely on a slick marketing pitch from an aggressive vendor touting a discounted product with attractive features but with little understanding of your business.

“This can lead to poor investment decisions that result in lost time and money with protracted implementation processes, stalled progress on innovation, and possibly a failure to digitalize effectively due to a lack of product-market fit,” she says.

Mitigating financial and operational risks with technology adoption has gained greater urgency with the advent of new regulations such as the EU ETS, CII, and upcoming FuelEU Maritime, as these necessitate efficient digital systems for effective voyage decision-making to minimize the cost of emissions, as well as for reporting and other related tasks.

“Given the new green operating regime, digitalization to achieve operational efficiencies is no longer an option but essential both for compliance and competitive advantage as environmental performance is now a key differentiating factor in commercial contracts,” Huseby says.

Checklist for tech adoption

“It is therefore imperative for shipping companies as buyers of software to carry out a thorough internal assessment to determine their business challenges and identify tasks and processes that can deliver the most value through automation – typically, those that are repetitive and time-consuming.

“Furthermore, they must have in place concrete criteria in order to ask the right questions of vendors so that sound investment decisions can be made, which can lead to value creation and accelerate digital transformation.”

Echoing this guidance, Thetius’ study ‘Avoiding the digital divide’ states: “Those looking to automate must understand what, why and how to avoid buying into solutions that are not fit for purpose.”

To this end, OrbitMI has developed the software evaluation toolkit SET Maritime, an Excel workbook that provides a useful checklist for technology adoption.

The freely downloadable resource enables shipping companies to evaluate several competing vendors based on a range of criteria covering company profile, solution architecture, service and customer support, usage and extendibility, reports, dashboards, and visibility, pre-fixture features, voyage management and operations, and post-voyage features.

Vendors are assigned a score of 1-4 based on how they perform against these criteria to deliver a final radar chart that gives a simple visual overview showing the relative merits of each vendor.

Intuitive and easy to learn

She believes it is important for companies to seek out empathetic vendors that understand their challenges and are willing to work together with them to develop user-friendly solutions that are simple to implement and make life easier for users by enabling them to work more productively.

“Shipping companies need to adopt technologies that are intuitive and easy to learn for the end-user and do not disrupt existing ways of working as this can accelerate uptake among users, who will then push the system to do more to generate ROI,” Huseby says.

She points out that this was the guiding principle behind Stena Bulk’s development of the Orbit vessel performance system before it was spun out into NYC-based software-as-a-service provider OrbitMI in 2019.

This factor is also highlighted in the Thetius study, which states: “Software developers have an opportunity to work with their customers to develop and experiment with solutions that not only fit specific requirements but are configurable and customizable to meet changing user needs.”

Integrable and compatible

Huseby underlines the importance of solutions that are integrable with existing IT infrastructure, as well as compatible with other products in future, and enable data-sharing to allow effective decision-making based on a single source of truth available across company departments. This counters the trend of siloed data systems that prevent holistic analysis, hinder productivity, and slow down decision-making due to manual inputting, multiple processes, and copy-and-paste, with increased risk of human error, she says.

She believes data-sharing must be underpinned by collaboration among vendors to deliver maximum value for the end-user, with the Orbit system integrating multiple APIs from software partners while harnessing AI and machine learning to facilitate intelligent connected workflows for timely, actionable real-time insights accessible on a unified company-wide user interface.

“Shipowners need to ask how a software supplier is connecting with other vendors. If the vendor is not interested in collaboration, that is a red flag. Vendors must realize they are part of an ecosystem and must collaborate within this ecosystem to strengthen innovation and provide the optimal solution for clients,” Huseby says.

Another factor to consider is the business model of vendors as this could lead to a marketing strategy dependent on fast sales to generate revenue, especially if investor funding is contingent on quick returns, but with little client collaboration and follow-up, she says.

Sustainable transformation

Despite recent consolidation among vendors, she says it is unrealistic to expect that any one supplier can provide a single solution to meet all the needs of a shipping company given the fragmented nature of the software market – reflecting the fragmentation of the industry – so cross-vendor collaboration is vital.

Reinforcing its commitment to industry transformation over the long haul, OrbitMI is working with strategic partner Bureau Veritas Marine & Offshore to develop credible software solutions that integrate multiple systems, data feeds and workflows for functions such as voyage management and optimization, harnessing the French classification society’s multi-disciplinary expertise in maritime.

“The future is data-driven, and robust software evaluation processes can both strengthen industry knowledge of solutions and promote vendor accountability and credibility in favor of effective technology adoption to drive sustainable digital transformation for decarbonization going forward,” Huseby concludes.

Source: Hellenic Shipping News