Someone once said, ‘The ship of the future will be a floating computer’. It actually is going to be true, rather has become true to some extent. There are some who think the shipping industry has already embarked upon the digital revolution whereas some think it is still a long way to go before the real digital transformation takes place in the entire industry. Undoubtedly, digital transformation to bring about autonomous mobility and the use of artificial intelligence would get multiple benefits to the stakeholders. Self-navigating ships and digital captains are not distant dreams any more in this era of technology. Digital transformation of the global shipping industry is indispensable. Technology could also address the issues of shortage of mariners in many countries. Some countries in the world such as Japan where marine transport accounts for almost 100 percent of its trade are moving fast in adaptation since there is no survival without it.
The preference of the world trade by sea is for certain reasons such as low cost, transporting huge volumes of cargo in one go, eco-friendliness and safety. A trader/businessman/manufacturer/buyer/exporter/importer etc. looks forward for better business model with low expenses without compromising on quality and to get the best viable service. One of the reasons for over 92 percent of world’s merchandise carried by sea is cost. Other transport methods such air, rail, pipeline or road have less advantages comparatively. All transport methods have adopted technology and sea transport is not far behind, however, it has to further catch up with the technological revolution sooner rather than later to benefit the world economy. Digital shipping revolution is inevitable for the burgeoning world trade. Digital transformation of the shipping industry would further strengthen the connection between the people and information and lead the industry to the betterment.
There is no denial that digitalization has taken the world by storm. The shipping industry being the part of freight forwarding industry could benefit in terms of improvement in D&A, Automation, IoT, Blockchain, Management Solutions and Cloud Solutions. Digital dashboards have already replaced the traditional methods. Sensors are being used for the evaluation of fuel usage and mechanical performance as well as for the reduction of damage to products. Blockchain is being used by the shipping companies in innovative ways as it helps access information through apps.
Self-navigating ships with digital captains is the need of the hours. The digital captains, not on board the ship, could perform their duty by using mixed reality as well as artificial intelligence and could be more effective in terms of performance. Automation has already made a huge difference in terms of service to the customers, however, human interaction would always be there in certain cases. Decision making would always necessitate the human interference, however, the use of technology would facilitate it. Technology has already altered the face of shipping dramatically through automation of its functions. The 20 members of the World Shipping Council might be on move to digitize the industry to keep pace with other industries of the world.
The ever-increasing world merchandise exports, over US$17 trillion currently, necessitates the use of technology for superior service. There is requirement for shipping large volumes of cargo in the least possible time. In order to achieve the economies of scale, there is need for mega vessels for the transportation of merchandise. There is technological revolution in the shipping industry of the trading economies such as Singapore.
Some stakeholders do feel even today that human interaction not the technology is essential for information about the path ships are taking, getting quotes to customers, negotiating rates with trucking companies, airlines, and ship owners, securing good deals based on large volumes of cargo etc. whereas other feel that technology is a kind of middleman between the customers and the service providers.
Digital transformation of the shipping industry would benefit the small and large economies alike. Lower service charges would be welcomed by the exporters and the importers of small economies like that of Pakistan which has over $80 billion global trade.