Op-Ed: Maritime digitalization will bolster efficiency and improve predictive maintenance

Written by Heather Ervin
maritime digitalization and technology disruptions

By Jeremy Hermanns, Co-Founder and CEO of DockWorks

Empty shelves and ships stuck outside busy American ports made it common knowledge among even those people not familiar with the maritime industry that shipping was suffering from an immeasurable need to improve its ability to be efficient.

While band-aids are being applied to the loudest issues drawn to light in the aftermath of the COVID-19 shipping collapse and the resulting disrupted supply chain, the need for the shipping industry to modernize is more evident than ever before. The industry needs to improve its ability to foresee maintenance demands, downtimes, and manage compliance and cybersecurity requirements. This can only be achieved if the maritime industry adopts digitalization as part of its overall plans to improve productivity.

Traditionally, the shipping industry has been conservative toward any move to digitize its processes because of a delicate but enormous logistics chain around the world that might see disruption if digitalization is injected into its operations. There is an overreliance on antiquated systems and a climate that doesn’t foster investment in innovation.

But just as technology has permeated the home services and automobile repair industries to solve similar issues, the maritime sector has to begin streamlining its processes in order to remain efficient, meet compliance goals and attract a new generation of workers to replace retiring Baby Boomers.


Jeremy Hermanns

Most ships run no matter what. If maintenance is necessary, it has to be done on the water while the ship is carrying cargo to and from various ports. Digitalization of service helps give operators insight to predictive maintenance so that the parts necessary to complete services can be ordered well in advance of any maintenance issue and are always readily available during voyages.

Digitizing the industry can provide vessel operators with a variety of data science that can prioritize a ship’s maintenance schedule, increase fuel efficiency, reduce crew time and costs, meet regulatory compliance goals and analyze the data generated from a ship’s various digital maintenance records.

Antiquated record keeping results in lost crew efficiency, shorter runtimes and an inability to predict downtime or maintenance needs. Having the technology to receive vessel updates in real time using updated maintenance records help operators recognize aging systems. This lowers operating costs and allows longer runtimes between maintenance services.


From a technical perspective, digitalization needs to be standardized and scalable so that new business models can be developed to ensure the maritime industry as a whole can adopt modernization without disrupting the existing logistical operation. Digitalization should add efficiency and not create more of the same issues the maritime industry saw over the past several months.

Most operators are already using digital communications to predict weather systems and follow trade routes so adapting modern methods to improve servicing ships, reducing redundant paperwork and planning for growth and supply chain volatility are more a matter of creating a framework than introducing foreign concepts.

Operators will easily be able to embrace data as an asset but need the help of both governmental policymakers and owner buy-in to push digitalization adoption.


All commercial ships must deal with a multitude of agencies at each port throughout the world to comply with regulatory requirements dictated by each country and international regulations. 

Modernization would automate most of the information that must be processed to meet compliance and would cut down on the paperwork required at each dock location. This helps avoid regulatory gaps and helps owners, operators and other stakeholders work with technical development teams on ways to standardize digital platforms to meet future compliance needs.

But with digitalization, comes the risk of cybersecurity attacks. The shipping sector has already seen malware and phishing offensives that moved the need for maritime cybersecurity from denial to corporate acceptance. Regulatory requirements as part of shipboard inspections for both industry compliance and cybersecurity are not far off. Modernizing the industry will provide ships with the ability to download compliance and cybersecurity updates with ease.

Despite any lingering reluctance to modernize, customers, regulators and future employees will drive the demand to digitalize the industry in order to ensure fewer port delays, improve visibility and device control and better supply chain integration. The maritime industry needs to be flexible and pragmatic in their modernization strategies.

To remain competitive, compliant and secure, the maritime industry needs to accept modernization and move to digitalization. Their bottom line and future efficiency requires it.

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