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Perfect storm forecast at Transas Global Conference in Malta

CORK, IRELAND : One and a half years on from his appointment as CEO of innovative, digital solutions company Transas, Frank Coles opened the two-day Transas Global Conference in Malta last week with a state-of-the-industry address on the possibilities and pitfalls of the maritime sector’s fragmented approach to digitalization, and offered an integrated vision for the future of shipping.

In a gathering bringing together high level professionals from maritime and beyond and an agenda designed to inspire change, Coles delivered a keynote speech that was not afraid to question many of the default settings that govern how today’s industry operates.

Stressing the importance of distinguishing vessel operations from other parts of the global supply chain, he nonetheless envisioned a world where the giants of e-commerce – such as Amazon and Alibaba – sought control of logistics channels by chartering vessels or leasing port capacity.

It could be a world leaving industry regulators unable to keep pace with either technological or structural change, he said. “The conditions are there for a perfect storm.”

Coles went on to plot out a roadmap for industry, emphasising the need to drive positive change to weather the impending storm of technological disruption. The journey envisaged would be split into the four quadrants of the company’s THESIS concept, he said: ship solutions, fleet operations, ship traffic control and the Transas Academy.

The Transas Global conference drew speakers from the sharp end of technological change – both from within and outside the industry – with sessions bookended by robust panel discussions and sustained audience interaction.

Key speakers included Carnival Corporation’s Senior Vice President Corporate Maritime Quality Assurance David Christie, who explained that the world’s largest cruise operator saw technological investment as a cornerstone of improving training techniques, and training in general as “a constructive process; not a cost”. Meanwhile, Airbus’s Executive Operational Advisor to Product Safety Harry Nelson described a working environment where civil aviation pilots must “expect – and react to – the unexpected,” alluding to the paradox of automation.

Wired magazine’s Editor-at-large David Rowan discomfited some delegates with a vision of how Silicon Valley start-ups might exploit inefficiencies in shipping business. Adaptive automation, machine learning, Uber-style disintermediation, distributed digital ledgers – aka blockchain – for secure transactions; all might endanger traditional shipping practices, he observed. “Start-ups show little patience for the established rules of play.”

Coles brought proceedings to a close by calling on maritime industry to take responsibility for its digital future. “Transas cannot do this alone,” he said. “It is a duty that lies on the shoulders of every player in the sector. Bringing about change requires motivation, a vision, political support, and sustained momentum.

“Vessels, shore authorities, ports, regulators and training facilities worldwide must work together on technology and on developing the common operating platform that is needed to achieve the extraordinary gains in operating efficiencies that are available. What we achieved in Malta was to register that the industry’s future success will depend on collaborative change, while offering industry leaders the opportunity to share the solutions and strategies that benefit business. But this is just the beginning. It is up to our industry to hear that call.”

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