I am on the plane back from the SNAME Maritime Convention which is the 124th event focusing on improving innovation and communication in the maritime industry. As usual I was impressed with the event due to the practical presentations and the diverse number of attendees. “SNAME means business” was the theme of this conference and it had a great representation from the 7 faces of SNAME.
There was a lot of alignment with the conversations I had with people in the marine industry and the talks, presentations and keynote. The overall takeaway I had from the conference was that the maritime industry is really near the inflection point of a real revolution. There were a lot of discussions about how companies are working towards a business transformation or they were at least thinking of one. Some organizations have a clear vision as to how to accomplish this though many are still in the decision and prioritization phase where they simply do not know where to begin.
I thought I would mention the items that seem to be at the foundation of many of my discussions as well as the presentations.
Almost every discussion or presentation either mentioned or required that all our information with intelligent relationships should be part of a flexible platform that could be easily leveraged. This included all discussions revolving around the digital twin/thread, using IoT to improve various aspects of our business, mobile accessibility of our information in a context we need and various others.
However, it still seems that no one has nailed down their innovation platform; some companies are still in a prototype phase lasting over 3 years.
Even though it is good that we are recognizing that a platform is required to enable many of the technologies we want/need to implement, I find it interesting that the amount of time is very high. After some discussions with some of the companies, I concluded that the common theme seems to be that they did not take an agile approach to implementing it. Their appetite was too large and they simply took on too much for their initial projects. This has left them with all sub-projects about 90% complete which translates to 0% implemented in production. There does seem to be an understanding that they need to take smaller chunks and get things 100% completed before moving to the next project. I understand this is hard for some as they see all the benefits that a properly configured Innovation platform could provide. This leads people to continue to add more “requirements” for their system. A common saying I use to remind me not to fall into that trap is, “We need to determine which great ideas not to do.” This is extremely hard to follow because in reality, it is very difficult to prioritize one great idea over another. It is even more difficult to focus on only a subset of the great ideas a company has. However, if you do not do this, you will have many great ideas that are only 90% implemented which translates to 0% benefit to the organization
SNAME is a global organization but with the event being held in the US there was a significant presence of US companies. One of the topics that came up often and which had some very “passionate” conversations was the plan to have a US 355 ship navy (~60-70 more ships than today). The presentation from Norman Polmar was a good generally agnostic view of the 355 navy. One important point that he mentioned was that if we stay with our current trends (type of vessels, costs, etc.), the US Navy budget would have to over double to ~23 billion dollars. He mentioned that he highly doubts that the budget would increase by that amount. This does not mean specifically that the 355 Navy cannot be reached but rather, it means we need to rethink the way that we build ships by focusing on tested and proven designs instead of using new unproven designs which cost a lot more. Also, it means really understanding what is needed by the country to keep it secure in our new environment. The requirements today are totally different than yesterday’s and without understanding today’s threats they will not be building the most capable fleet. He went into more detail on designs as well as armaments.
A separate topic that totally caught me off guard but that pleased me is that the Navy is already looking at using public cloud technology. I knew this would happen someday and I was glad to see quick progress on that front. This will open many opportunities and I will need to investigate what, if any, restrictions exist. If any of you have any specific information that you would like to share, please do.
I was not able to go to any smart ships presentations but there was a great keynote presentation from Rolls-Royce. There is no doubt that they are leading in the autonomous ships space; however, what resonated with me the most during the keynote was not manned vs. unmanned vs. reduced manned ships but rather how we need to rethink shipbuilding.
Some sort of autonomous ships are definitely coming and in some cases already are here. This will not just affect how we build ships but also the business of shipping and shipbuilding. We really need to rethink and look for opportunities for how our businesses can change by leveraging all the resources we have available now. Will/can shipping operate a business similar to the airline business where they create alliances? Do shipping companies lease their ships instead of owning them similar to offshore rigs? Do we create smaller autonomous/semi-autonomous ships that can deliver cargo on a more dynamic schedule? What will the futures of inspections of ships be with all the IoT on a vessel? Can smaller vessels do local transport and then meet up with a large vessel for longer trips in more extreme environments? What will Amazon do to shipping when they finally get into our space? 🙂
I do not think all these questions make sense but the idea is that we really need to get rid of all the baggage and “blind certainty” we have with our industry and look at it with new eyes.
I really enjoyed this conference as it really has my three passions (besides my family): Shipbuilding, Technology, and Business.
I have said it before, our industry is moving faster than I have ever seen in my 15+ year career in this field.
There are three main challenges I consistently see:
- There is so much mature technology which is new to our industry that we do not know how to start, never mind where to start.
- For those who have started down their business transformation, they have mistakenly taken too big of a first step and have not achieved very much or nothing at all. Taking small steps and focusing on a sub-set of your great ideas is definitely the tune you hear from these companies which have missed their first step and are resetting for a smaller first step
- The businesses of shipping and shipbuilding are going to change. I think many can agree with that statement but do not agree to the level that they will change: evolutionary or revolutionary. I do think that from the commercial aspect there will be a big change (revolutionary) in a way I cannot imagine at this point.
I will definitely go to SNAME Maritime Convention again. I hope next year that they have larger rooms for their presentations as almost every single presentation I went to was standing room only.