Cloud computing has been adopted by many industries as a logistics and analytical tool. The maritime industry and cargo shipping in particular are a little slow off the bat. A major breakthrough in technology for this industry is the freight management software that uses cloud computing to network between the many stakeholders on a cargo ship. Cargo shipping companies operate around the globe with different systems at each port. Communication for the most part is a manual process with information being passed from port to port. Not so long ago, having a single software that could reach all the stakeholders and at the same time cough up figures on performance by country, state, region, and possibly down to sales reps and freight bills seemed like a pipe dream. The Software as a Service model of the cloud has resolved a lot of these problems making the dream a reality.
The environment at sea is risky to begin with. Add to that the fact that cargo ships are manned by skeleton crews and travel the seas for long periods of time. Such ships cannot afford the luxury of a system collapse. This is the primary reason why the shipping industry has been slow to adopt cloud computing. Although most ships today use satellite connections, it was unheard of until not so long ago. Many ships still travel with traditional cable connected systems. Vessels that do use satellites have to rely on connections from satellites for land-based connections.
Presently operations are mostly manual be it traffic, port entry, weather, or safety. Information is sent from one point to another rather than being available for all. Vessels do have systems on board but there is lack of homogeneity among them. The manual process is time consuming and the likelihood of human error is high. In an industry that deals with varying climatic conditions on a daily basis, real time information regarding weather conditions and such other data could save many dollars and lives. Maritime cloud computing could connect vessels using disparate systems on a common platform with maintenance teams, support teams, customers, and others enabling quick decisions and prompt action. Bjørn K. Haugland says that by beginning of 2015, ships with capacity of as much as nineteen thousand TEU (Twenty foot Equivalent Units) will be at sea. Cloud computing can help meet the challenge of keeping track of such large quantities of cargo.
The shipping industry is now embracing cloud computing to open new channels for communication between workers around the globe. Says Rachel King of the Wall Street Journal, this cautious industry is now beginning to appreciate the power of cloud computing and the benefits it can bring. Peter Jackson of Seaspan is of the opinion that the benefits of cloud computing for the cargo shipping industry are accessibility and the ability to work on a single platform where large volumes of data can be stored.
The year 2013 has proved a turning point for adoption of cloud computing in many industries. The logistic and complex requirements of the shipping industry posed a unique challenge. According to John Edmunds of Verizon Trademark the drivers for the shipping industry are a global network that provides the ability to scale up or scale down as required and the ability for shipping crews to have access to real time data. Conversely, members of the crew can update data for their onshore colleagues so that both can work in sync.
Disaster recovery is another area where cloud computing can come to the aid of the cargo industry. Shipping companies transport valuable goods across often turbulent waters through volatile weather. Add to that sabotage and human errors and you have a perfect formula for a business discontinuity. Cloud computing comes as a savior, helping store data in a central and secure location from where risks and disasters can be managed.
Cost saving is another big advantage that cloud computing offers to the cargo industry. Machine-to-Machine (M2M) applications have facilitated logistics, communication, and tracking. Distribution and logistics has made the life of shipping companies easier. Efficient operations and better service have become possible with virtualization. Transportation and distribution have become easier with cloud computing ability to manage routes, schedules, and hazards in real time at lower costs. With everything automated, the focus remains on the core business.
Speaking at the Digital Ship Conference in Bergen, Bjørn K. Haugland said that the 2050 targets for the shipping industry for maintaining sustainability and parity with other industries include reduction of fatality rates, reducing CO2 emissions, and reduction (or maintenance) of freight costs. Cloud computing facilitates automation and remote control. Business procedures, maintenance, and other operations can be automated using cloud computing. In the area of data mining and diagnostics, cloud computing has proven useful in other industries.
Remote control using sensors and automation of several operations such as navigation and maintenance are a distinct possibility. Cloud computing will open up new channels of information between the various stakeholders bringing transparency into operations. Shipping companies can provide evidentiary information about performance. Electronic compliance at ports and electronic customs will enable faster transition. Automated sensors will facilitate owners to remotely manage ships and manage technical issues such as climate change and regulatory compliance. New communication channels will enable designers to communicate better resulting in better and optimum designs of various ship parts. New technologies facilitate better service, virtual prototyping and energy management. Remote sensors and remote control will see the dream of unmanned ships become a reality says, Bjørn K. Haugland.
The shipping industry, an industry that has taught the world to adapt, is poised to witness a future of safety. Cargo and crew will travel with the assurance that support is available on the dashboard. Customers can hand over their goods, happy in the knowledge that they can track their valuables from the comfort of their office at no extra cost. No more will there be a need for ships to remain in port while orders are on the way. Innovative use of ICT will transform the industry and ensure sustainability in the years to come. Unmanned remotely controlled cargo ships that travel from port to port depositing their wares will soon be a reality.