By Richard Hepworth, President, Trelleborg’s marine systems operation
Could the announcement of a major collaboration between Maersk and Alibaba in just the first week of 2017 indicate this is going to be a year of seismic change for our industry? Let’s hope so. Shipping, like all other sectors of the global economy, is transforming. And it needs to change too.
Technology is recognized as one of the key enablers of this change and while it’s interesting to see that the first big deal of the year sees a traditional industry player team up with an e-commerce giant – surely an example of positive disruption at its best – it’s perhaps not unsurprising.
Over the last few years we’ve seen a number of alliances and collaborations, such as the emergence of the so-called Power Four, so the decision by a main shipping line to form a partnership to deploy online services seems to be the logical next step in the evolution of the ‘old’ shipping business model to a more logistics-centred approach. It’s also worth noting that while the first deal of this kind is based in Asia, where the speed of change and disruption is more rapid, it won’t be contained there. Further digitalization of the supply chain is inevitable and everything that can be automated will be automated.
Attitude is key. The traditionally conservative shipping sector needs to embrace technology and the positive change it can bring. Collaborations such as this one, may seem removed from our own day-to-day activities, but there are smaller, practical steps that can be taken now to take advantage of developments in smart technology.
Our own research shows how shipping lines value smart technologies that have a positive impact on the safe and efficient operations of ports and terminals. These so-called smart ports benefit from smart technology that connects products, collects data and provides insights to deliver real efficiency gains, such as lowering operating costs due to improved vessel throughput. It’s a first step but it’s a tangible one.