The Road to Shipping 2030: What’s the Big Idea?


As change accelerates, future success in shipping and maritime depends on developing a holistic, digital vision, and some big, hairy, audacious goals. The Shipping 2030 conference series is ours, says K D Adamson.

As a Futurist, the question I get asked most often is, ‘what’s going to change?’ In fact the question you should be asking is, ‘what isn’t going to change?’

Many in shipping—and everywhere else—feel that change is occurring much faster than they’re used to. And you know what? They’re absolutely correct. We’re entering a unique period in human history where a range of global megatrends are combining with new generational mindsets and colliding head-on with a group of breakthrough technologies which are growing at an exponential rate.

The Rise of the New Arenas

The result is a raft of wholesale disruption which is touching every area of human life—including the global economy and the businesses we create as part of it. The evidence is that no industry or sector will be immune from digital disruption, in fact digital is in many cases sweeping away the traditional boundaries of what we called vertical markets—what my Futures Agency colleague Gerd Leonhard now describes as ‘arenas’.

As technologies move horizontally across organisations we’re seeing traditional silos break down too—HR, Marketing and Procurement could all be using the same underlying technology platform these days.

Changing Digital Paradigms

Recent research by Gartner has shown that the movement of IT budget towards other departments and individuals is accelerating. 14 per cent of cloud storage, 13 per cent of social media, and 11 per cent of office productivity software is purchased without the IT department even knowing about it. In fact, IT is no longer the lead purchaser of technology. According to Gartner, the marketing department is the new frontrunner and will outspend the IT department on technology by 2017.

The pressure to survive and thrive in this new digital paradigm is enormous, but some industries are better equipped than others to meet the challenges. Shipping is often described as being backward when it comes to technology—actually ‘operating in the stone age’, was how one analyst described it—but it’s important to understand why that situation has developed.

Shipping’s Definition of Technology

Firstly, you need to define ‘technology’. From where I sit, that includes everything from artificial intelligence to smart materials, 3D printing and nuclear fusion. But shipping’s definition of technology has tended to be narrower, and bound up almost exclusively in engineering terms. On that measure then of course shipping has seen technological advancement. But that kind of specific domain engineering expertise is not the ‘technology’ that the rest of the commercial world has been steadily adopting over the past couple of decades.

That’s the kind of technology which is based on digital operation, efficiencies, data, analysis and collaborative working, and underpinning all of that is connectivity. That goes to the heart of why shipping has lagged other industries, because it’s been handicapped by the expense and complexity of deep sea connectivity, dividing it from its data, assets and its people and—importantly—from the common technology platforms and applications which have driven innovations for others.

The Value of Connectivity

Actually when you put this ‘expensive’ airtime into the overall context of operating the multi-million pound assets that ships represent, for the average Inmarsat user it equates to less than 1 per cent of operating costs… which brings you to the real crux of the matter. Connectivity—the gateway to all the digital operation, efficiencies and insight that other industries know to be essential—has continued to be viewed simply in cost terms in the shipping industry.

The real question is not how much that connectivity costs, but how much value it can deliver for the enterprise.

Too often though, suppliers are still talking to IT departments about connectivity where cost is the only metric, when it’s other departments—from marketing to procurement and HR—who are the ones that could realise genuine value and competitive advantage from enterprise-grade connectivity. And, as Gartner indicate, are beginning to spend more on technology than IT is.

Facing the Digital Transformation

So what’s the legacy of all this? Well, together with the unique challenges of the harsh domain in which we operate, it’s meant that by and large shipping and maritime companies are lagging other industries on the road to digital transformation—and that’s the case on both an individual organisation and broader industry level.

Futurenautics has been working hard to identify and contextualise the technology and wider trends shipping needs to understand to effect a fast and successful digital transformation, but that’s hard when the industry doesn’t approach digital in a holistic way.

There are plenty of narrowly-focussed conferences in the maritime industry where subjects like connectivity, Big Data, analytics, autonomy and sustainability pop-up in isolation, but that just isn’t enough. The evidence is that successfully navigating the digital future requires an organisational vision, plan and appetite, and real direction from the top.

These are dangerous times for big, well-resourced incumbent companies in every industry. Falling technology costs and access to scalable platforms are levelling the playing field for lean, agile start-up companies with big ideas which are threatening to undercut, outmanoeuvre and in some cases disintermediate the often unwieldy legacy organisations.

The Bigger Picture

That’s why it isn’t just about technology. Technology can enable the competitive advantage, but it won’t be the advantage in and of itself. What’s really required is an innovative mindset to find the new ideas and make new collaborations—often in unexpected places.

You could say that Futurenautics’ partnership with KNect365 to create the Shipping 2030 conference series is kind of an example of that, because one of the most profound changes will be around what we’ve traditionally understood to be the rules of competition and value creation. The energy and resources wasted in competing on everything can be far outweighed by the value created by collaborating with each other towards a shared objective. And then, competing the hell out of each other on the other stuff!

The world it serves is undergoing a major shift, but shipping is so used to analysing threats and opportunities within its narrow silo that it’s missing the bigger picture. From internal processes like HR, procurement and finance, to asset optimisation and utilisation, smarter product development, maintenance, business development, and delivering for customers, digital innovation offers huge opportunities.

The Need for Big Ideas

In a near-future with intelligent transport and logistics systems, ubiquitous connectivity, data and analytics, autonomous vehicles, and unprecedented transparency of operations, shipping needs some innovative big ideas. Finding them requires 360° thinking, approaching the connected future holistically, understanding our suppliers, our customers, and their customers… the new consumers.

Connecting people, with technology, ideas and each other—from ship operators to customers, suppliers, start-ups and regulators—will enable companies to be more agile, collaborative, knowledgeable and attractive to new talent, and guide them as they invest in the digital infrastructure and competence they need to thrive in the future.

I’ve been saying this for a while, so I’m really delighted to be part of this new kind of event, one whose purpose is to provide the platform the industry needs to find and share the big ideas and accelerate its speed of innovation.

That’s what’s known as a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal… the touchstone for rudely successful companies in the digital era. If you’ve got one, let me know. And if you haven’t, come to Singapore in November and let’s help you find it.

Like what you’ve read? Don’t miss K D Adamson’s exclusive speaker sessions at this year’s Shipping2030 Asia in Singapore 29 November – 1 December.


Futurist K.D Adamson is an expert in the impact of new digital paradigms, the exponential growth of technologies, global megatrends and new generational mindsets on business and society. CEO of Futurenautics, member of The Futures Agency, author, presenter and keynote speaker, she is acknowledged as the world’s foremost ‘blue’ domain futurist. She has an unparalleled understanding of the strategic global economic, business and technology context for the rapid change the shipping and maritime industry is experiencing, consulting and inspiring its leaders towards new digital visions and transformations. Visit her website for more information or follow her on Twitter @KDAdamson.


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