Virtually every industry around the world is facing disruption from new companies, new technologies, and new ways of working. Traditional business models are being challenged and shipping is no exception. Inge Sandvik is the person charged with steering the Wilhelmsen group into a connected future and he has much to say on the future of the industry and the likely challenges ahead for WWL.

Finding a balance 

Despite his background in disruptive tech startups and his role as Head of Digital for the Wilhelmsen group, Sandvik believes predictions of a fully-automated future are wide of the mark. “Future success will be about finding the balance between technology and people,” he says.

“Future success will be about finding the balance between technology and people,” he says.

“Automation of data collection and technology will play a critical role, but the judgement calls of experienced seafarers will remain important. A lot of the reporting done from the ships can certainly be automated, but then people who have the expertise will be needed to do the quality assurance of the data. It’s one thing to capture lots of data, but it’s quality data that we really need,” he explains.

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Sandvik believes that some of the proposed solutions being presented to the shipping industry do not fully grasp this essential human factor. “Some companies propose solutions that attempt to solve everything using algorithms and big data. We understand the deep-sea business and don’t believe the autonomous ship revolution is going to happen for quite some time, maybe never in the case of deep sea transportation.”

One piece of the puzzle 

For our customers, deep sea shipping is just one piece of a logistical puzzle that may involve many other players. For this reason, Sandvik believes future technology solutions should be geared towards collaboration and the sharing of data.

“Today there are a lot of systems operating independently. A collaborative approach is the only way to make our individual processes more efficient and more transparent,” says Sandvik.

“As a group, we are in a strong position throughout the value chain, but relying on our own proprietary systems is not going to work for us in the long-term. We need to work with our customers and our competitors to see how we can build more open, industry-wide platforms to benefit the end customer. Software is going to be a much more important part of the customer experience in the future, so if we are to continue to offer the best customer experience, we have to make sure the systems can talk to others,” he adds.

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He highlights the work of the Sea Traffic Management (STM) consortium as an example of the likely future environment in which we’ll all be working. Co-financed by the European Union, STM aims to connect vessel owners, shipping agents, port authorities and other relevant organisations with the same information, updated in real-time. This is a good illustration of how our digital future will allow for improved collaboration among the players in the supply chain.