Big data delivers a bigger impact. By Esa Henttinen

The idea of ‘big data’ has been around for years in many sectors, though the last year has seen significant debate on how it can and should be applied in the maritime industry. One of the difficulties with the concept is that many ideas now seem to be thrown under the ‘big data’ umbrella without much explanation. What is becoming clear, however, is that big data will become the driving force behind the next generation of shipbuilding and ship operations.

Big data has the power to improve our business decisions and the potential to make a dramatic difference in the day-to-day practices of the shipping industry. However, what can and will be achieved varies, as it is up to individual organisations to decide what data is collected, the tools chosen to perform analysis, and how that data is put to use.

The challenges of this decision making process arise when we consider the amount of pure data that is collected. The fundamental difference between data and information, is that data is unsorted, unanalysed and can come from hundreds of sources in huge volumes. The process of translating this into a useable, manageable and meaningful format can sometimes be daunting for businesses. However, without this, the data has no value.

Translating raw data into valuable information can either be done in real-time or through analysis of previously recorded data that has simply been stored for future reference. The challenges around fuel efficiency provide a useful illustration.

Real-time big data analysis for active energy efficiency management is the core offering of the ClassNK-NAPA GREEN performance monitoring and optimisation solution. The software uses a huge range and volume of data collected onboard and from other sources to provide accurate and up-to the minute information about the current performance of the vessel. Parameters include weather and location data. In addition this data is then passed through advanced and highly accurate predictive algorithms to provide pathways to increasing energy efficiency aboard, all using current data in real time.

In an age of rapid technological development, the big data debate becomes entangled with the broader debate on innovation in the shipping industry. Forward thinking companies such as Norsepower are quickly gaining industry recognition and respect; for example being awarded Energy Efficiency Solution of The Year at the Ship Efficiency Awards 2015. Part of this stems from their commitment to proving and verifying technology benefits through rigorous third-party studies, ideally two or more that validate each other as Norsepower has done with results from both NAPA and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. In a conservative industry that is sceptical of the promises being made by the many clean tech companies flooding the market, proving the validity of new technologies through data analysis is now fundamental to market acceptance and therefore success.

Martin Stopford’s recent comments on the unwillingness of shippers to accept innovations, instead only being interested in achieving cheaper rates are not necessarily true for all. Many companies are paving the way for those in the shipping industry and have acknowledged that we need to keep up with the technological advances of other sectors. Rolls Royce, for example – this old industrial giant is placing itself at the forefront of innovation and the latest technology. With half a terabyte of manufacturing data collected on each individual fan blade it produces, the precise level of information being collected and learnt from will surely inform great advances in sustainability and performance.

Rolls Royce’s development of unmanned ships provides another illustration. The pros and cons may split opinion in the shipping industry, however these vessels represent a massive leap forward in terms of technology innovation and have the potential to realise a step change in improving safety, efficiency and sustainability. NAPA’s involvement in this project demonstrates our continued commitment to uncovering these important advances and shaping the future of the industry.

As automated reporting and real time data provides a greater volume and variety than ever, the challenge for business is how to leverage this for commercial gain. Fortunately, the tools to transform raw data into invaluable business intelligence have never been more accessible. In an increasingly digital age, big data is steadily becoming a strategic driver at the heart of the business and shipping must continue to understand and embrace it.

Esa HenttinenEsa Henttinen is Executive Vice President, NAPA. In its 25 years of operation, NAPA has become a global leader in maritime software, services and data analysis for the maritime industry; providing best in class data-led solutions for safety, efficiency and productivity in both ship design and operations. NAPA operates globally, with ten offices across Asia, Europe and the Americas supported by its Helsinki headquarters.