In business, as in life, change happens. It is a constant of the world – the universe – we live in. While we cannot control whether or not change happens, we can choose whether to resist it or embrace it.
The shipping industry has a tendency to choose the former, probably because change implies the unknown, which implies a degree of risk. And if there’s one thing the industry hates more than anything it is risk. It’s possible this chronic risk aversion results from the physical environment in which ships operate: the oceans are unforgiving. There is no room for error. If you make a mistake, there are no second chances.
A healthy respect for the dangers around you is no bad thing. No cargo owner would entrust their consignment to a vessel operator that paid no heed to safety. Indeed, such cavalier vessel operators wouldn’t remain afloat – figuratively or literally – for long anyway.
The problem is this risk aversion seems to be so invasive as to have spread to parts of the business – such as back-office tasks done from air-conditioned offices on dry land – which are not at all vulnerable to being overcome by the waves.
Consequently, the shipping industry today is bogged down by unnecessary bureaucracy and archaic structures, which are blocking the radical improvements that could be realised by embracing change – whether technological, structural or both.
We are almost two decades into the 21st century. The internet and mobile connectivity have changed our way of life immeasurably. Yet, ships’ crews must still file noon reports, update paper charts and talk over radio. A respect for tradition is not necessarily bad, but resisting innovation to this extent seems to be wilfully obstructive.
Simply upgrading the technology is not the solution. The only way to effect real change is to transform attitude and culture at a more fundamental level. Without this, technology investments are wasted, and we are simply papering over the cracks. But, with a progressive, forward-looking attitude and culture, technology will become a great enabler in creating new value.
In the Transas Global Conference 2018 opening session, ’Change: Business Model or Technology’, industry stakeholders from the economics and finance sector will join ship management and supply chain experts to discuss how technology and shippers are disrupting the maritime industry and altering current business models. Speakers include Kaity Arsoniadis-Stein, Executive Director of Vancouver International Maritime Centre, Mark O’Neil, President of Columbia Shipmanagement; Kris Kosmala from supply-chain optimisation consultants Quintiq; and Christopher Rex, Head of Research, Danish Ship Finance.
Ultimately, change happens regardless of our wishes. For this reason, we need to choose whether we take ownership of it or wait for it to be imposed by external forces, outside of our control.