What is the importance of IT in shipping operations? See it here!

  • 09/02/2021
  • 12 分钟

Like other market areas that rely heavily on process efficiency, communication quality and data control, companies that operate in shipping operations are seeing their IT departments become a strategic department for success. This trend was further accelerated with the need to adapt the routines of these businesses because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Do you want to better understand the role of IT in shipping operations today and for the future? In this article, we invited Juliano Maia, technology manager at Wilson Sons Rebocadores with over 20 years of experience, to understand how this change is impacting the sector. Check it out!

What is needed for shipping operations in times of home office?

An interesting question to be raised is that, regarding shipping agency technology, a good part of the work in Brazilian ports is already done remotely, with the support of cutting-edge technological infrastructure.

“We have a fleet of 85 tugboats that operate from Trombetas to Rio Grande”, explains Juliano about all the operational capacity presented by Wilson Sons in 25 ports spread across the country. “All of it is coordinated by the operations center in Santos 24/7 entirely remotely”, he says.

The WS numbers demonstrate the size of the structure needed today to do this type of management in a competitive manner. There are 33 antennas, in addition to systems and other technological assets that allow such operational integration.

It is a type of sophisticated and high performance virtual environment, which can already be largely adapted for use in the home office. In it, it is possible to:

  • plan operations in advance;
  • monitor and control vessel speed;
  • manage docking and unberthing operations;
  • identify risk areas (No Go Areas) and issue alarms.

In addition, the IT of a large company in the sector is also capable of sustaining a large part of the routine inside and outside the boats, such as inspections, maneuver records, maintenance events, among others.

According to Juliano, “until recently this was all paper”. Today, the operation is all done in digital systems, including in very remote places, avoiding personnel and time waste.

What does the pandemic teach us about the new role of IT?

Just look towards investments in the maritime sector in recent years and see how the role of IT has become increasingly strategic within companies. The pandemic was, in this sense, a reality check for businesses that are not yet investing as they should in technology.

After following two decades of this evolution process, Maia sees this change in practice: “with the pandemic, we greatly restricted access on board so that the population is not contaminated. When we used paper, this would be impossible to do”.

Even after this period of social distancing, the in-company work routine again becomes the norm in these companies, the future that is expected for the shipping operation is the gradual reduction of the need to limit workers to physical spaces.

Economy and efficiency will always be the engine of these businesses. Even more so when the automation and simplification of operational processes make the entire chain safe and profitable.

Within this scenario, what is expected from technology professionals today is a joint effort with other areas to:

  • invest in more efficient solutions for the company’s operation and administration;
  • improve processes both in agility and in the quality of the work produced using specialized tools;
  • implement communication and team management tools, with planning for the remote work structure aiming at delivering results;
  • develop own solutions that optimize the core business of these companies and create competitive advantages in the market.

In this context, IT in shipping operations is not only important for this exceptional moment. The sector is becoming the basis for all planning and execution of new strategies for the future. The home office is a positive consequence of this concern.

What technologies are most used?

For companies that have such detailed operations, IT needs to work with a focus on process integration and reliability. Juliano Maia says, for example, that the routine of his work at WS Rebocadores is one of constant research, adoption and review of solutions to always achieve the maximum possible remote productivity.

In this sense, there are some technologies being adopted that emerge as the most important trends for the maritime sector in the future, both in the home office and in-company operation. We can highlight three main ones below.

Management systems

The management of the processes performed on board, in its great majority, had as solution several forms on paper where was the need to send a person from land on board, in order to recover these documents and later input the data in different systems or create management through auxiliary spreadsheets distributed through many branches. All of these processes, in the way they were executed, generated inefficiency and costs, in addition to causing process errors and lack of visibility of the progress and control of requests.

To resolve this issue, a BPM (Business Process Management) solution was sought, where it was possible to redesign all processes and make them more efficient and accurate, also bringing complete integration with other company systems.

For the success of the project, it was essential to review the processes. “Technology alone does not answer all of our needs, the most important thing, without a doubt, is to take a critical look at current processes and redesign them so that they bring the best efficiency”, explains Juliano.

In addition to the BPM solution, the EDM (Electronic Document Management) solution was also implemented. “The EDM solution allowed us to make quality documentation available to all crew members, previously we had the need to keep these documents updated in a physical file inside each vessel” details the specialist, adding that he also used the EDM to make several training videos available to the crew.

All solutions were thus integrated into a single platform with simple access for the entire crew, via browser or smartphone. 

Control systems

Allied to management systems, shipping agencies need even more specialized control platforms to do this work remotely.

A great example of this is the port handling and queuing management system. The efficiency of the technology, in this case, can greatly increase the agility and intelligence in the control on land and at sea, giving greater profitability to all involved in the chain.

There are several possibilities for this monitoring, and it is IT’s responsibility to find the solutions that bring the most return to the sector. Juliano tells us about one of these efforts, the project for placing cameras on board vessels.

“With this investment, we can access the images remotely and have a clear visibility of what happens”. He also tells about the execution of operational support initiatives: “we have been installing internet cables in vessels to provide better internet access to the crew in the engine room and mess room. This allows connectivity and digital transformation”.

Big Data and Security Tools

All these transformations in the productive capacity in shipping operations are based on the automatic collection and use of an increasing volume of information. The concept is known as Big Data.

Therefore, one of the great trends for the future is the heavy investment in Artificial Intelligence technologies — due to the human limitation to quickly analyze an absurd amount of information.

“The decision that the operator needs to make is very immediate”, comments Juliano Maia. “It is impossible for them to always make the best choice, with the lowest cost and the best return. What we do in AI is precisely to gather data to make decisions based on it”.

And if Big Data has so much value for the future of the market, cybersecurity should now be a priority. Robust systems with monitoring and recovery tools in the event of compromise ensure brand reliability and operational continuity.

Putting all these factors together (security, decision making, monitoring and strategic planning), we can see that the availability of home office is just the tip of an iceberg called digital transformation.

The pandemic anticipated the perception that it is necessary to invest more in technology and to increase the role of IT in shipping operations. It is a path that accelerates with no return towards a new development.

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