Op-Ed: The importance of data standardization

Written by Heather Ervin
Eric Christofferson on standardization

Eric Christofferson

By Eric Christofferson, Chief Product Officer at Veson

In today’s digital-first world, no industry is exempt from the reality of digital transformation. In recent years, the amount of data generated by the maritime industry has increased exponentially, with estimates that a modern ship generates over 20 gigabytes of onboard data every day. Vessels produce vast amounts of technical, commercial and operational data, including information from sensors and automation systems on board, current and future vessel location data and fuel consumption.

This data can be invaluable for maritime organizations, especially given the significant increases in complexity across the market in recent years, from geopolitical issues to the drive for sustainability. It has become more and more difficult—and commercially unwise—to withhold information and make decisions based purely on “gut,” past experience or generic connections and understanding. Strategically sharing information can drive enhanced collaboration and increase visibility, meaning organizations are not making decisions based on their single view of the world.

Data is a powerful tool that can drive increased openness, transparency and accountability within the maritime industry. However, knowing that data can be harnessed to meet ESG regulations, ensure compliance and drive operational efficiencies is only part of the puzzle. The sheer volume of data can be overwhelming to organizations, especially as much of it is disparate and unstructured. It can be near impossible to separate the signal from the noise, let alone use the data to drive actionable insights that can be used to enhance decision-making.

What’s more, there is currently no standard way to exchange, interpret information, or effectively speak in a common language within the maritime industry. A lack of standards makes it very difficult to exchange data, as data from different sources do not match up or use different formats to describe the same thing.

There are a huge variety of data sets within maritime that  can benefit from standardization; from specific vessel data (descriptions, certificates etc) and voyage updates, to terms and conditions (contracts, laytime terms etc), fuel types and ports. For example, there is currently no standard way to refer to ports within shipping, so understanding which port another organization may be referring to is not simple. There are effective solutions from other industries, such as aviation, which solved this issue through airport codes. Having berth/terminal definitions and port codes would be one potential solution, as would having defined geo-tagged port definitions that are available and agreed upon.

To maximize data within maritime, a normalized language must be collaboratively developed. Data standardization can drive increased openness and transparency on both sides of a contract. By collectively ‘speaking the same language’, organizations can selectively share important information—such as voyage updates, real-time visibility on shipments or contract details—directly with charterers, brokers, agents, and other trusted counterparties. Negotiations can then open up to allow for more win/win situations rather than a win/lose model where a benefit always comes at the expense or detriment of the counterparty.

The strategic sharing of information presents an opportunity to tap into new wells of knowledge helping organizations to enhance their unique competitive edge and make better informed decisions on the pressing issues of our time. Take decarbonization for example. Data standardization can enable organizations to harness the vast amount of available data they have, collaborate, and translate information into meaningful insights that can drive sustainability, meet regulations, and reduce emissions.

There are endless opportunities for data use within the maritime industry—if it is managed and applied in the right way. It can help to improve sustainability, safety, drive efficiencies and enhance supply chain transparency. However, tapping into these benefits will require industry-wide participation and collaboration to create the necessary data protocols and standards to accelerate the pace of change, improve communication and drive operational efficiencies.

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