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Learning to let go

In the maritime domain, an unwillingness among stakeholders to openly share information continues to be a barrier to reaping the full benefits of Big Data

T Data sharing

An obstacle that immediately presented itself was the thorny question of data ownership and the need to overcome a reluctance to share information for the greater good. The theory goes like this – the real benefit of Big Data increases as more of it is made available for analysis and number crunching. An unwillingness by companies to share

data with third parties due to commercial sensitivities, whether perceived or real, is a significant barrier – and one that ultimately comes down to a lack of trust. Data on vessel fuel consumption is a case in

point. Sharing with OEMs could bring short-term operational optimisations and, in the longer term, result in more efficient engines or associated systems. Sharing it with

Words: Kevin Tester

he gravitational field of Big Data has become almost inescapable. Over the past year or so, the term has cropped up with increasing- frequency at trade fairs, conferences or where and

when the future of shipping is discussed. It’s widely believed that data analytics has

great potential for making vessel and fleet operation more efficient as well as contributing to a host of other activities across the maritime sphere. Yet, despite this consensus on the broad-brush benefits of more openly sharing data, the details of practical implementation remain enveloped in a shroud of uncertainty. To bring some clarity to the discussion,

industry experts recently convened in London for a roundtable discussion on the subject that not only explored its opportunities, but also wrestled with some of the related challenges. Hosted by the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology (IMarEST), the roundtable brought together experts from commercial shipping, OEMs, class societies, insurers, naval integrators, subsea services, port operators, environmental research bodies and academia.

Overcoming these structural barriers, it was suggested, will require cultural change at an organisational level. Companies will need to adopt a ‘data-first’ attitude. Put another way, Big Data isn’t simply a faddish new product to be bolted onto the side of the IT department.

Standards dilemma

Data quality and standardisation was a subject that split delegates’ opinions. Some believed that standards of data cleanliness would be necessary to ensure that subsequent analysis produces meaningful results. Others were of the view that with enough data the impact of bad input or other outliers could be discounted. Moreover, delegates argued that establish-

simply a faddish new toy for the IT dept

Companies need to adopt a ‘data first’ attitude. Big Data isn’t

regulators could sharply reduce the burdens incurred by ensuring compliance and, in the longer term, mean improved regulation. The reticence displayed by owners suggests that these benefits are either difficult to quantify or fail to outweigh the risk of their information falling into the hands of unknown parties. One idea proposed during the discussion

was for the introduction of robust procedures for anonymising data before it’s shared – although this is incredibly hard to achieve. Even within organisations, particularly

larger ones, useful data is often kept in departmental silos or by certain teams – or it’s locked away in Excel worksheets maintained by individuals. This isn’t done out of suspicion – it’s often due to historic ways of working.

ing standards would take too long, delaying the adoption of tools and methods that already exist and could produce useful results as long as a suitable confidence level was communi- cated along with the findings of the analysis. Despite hailing from diverse sectors within

the industry, delegates were unanimous about the importance of defining explicit objectives before embarking on any Big Data project, and not to simply jump on the bandwagon. Few of them feared conflicts while using Big Data to commercial, safety or environmental ends. On the contrary, it was felt that a strong safety and environmental record are now commensurate with sustained commercial prosperity. Likewise, the delegates were unanimous

that data analytics will transform the industry for the better. It has countless applications within the marine sector, but there are still plenty of issues that must be thought through about how we might best unleash its potential. The IMarEST will produce a white paper

more fully detailing the outcomes of the discussion. It will also highlight some potential next steps the industry can consider as a whole. These will explore the ways in which Big Data can be used to enhance performance, productivity and safety across the marine sector and to improve our understanding of the oceans. A Special Interest Group on the topic will also be set up. Are you onboard yet?


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