Innovations, Marine News

An ocean of data

How open data creates sustainability in shipping

Open data is one the biggest outcomes of digitization, promoting free and uncontrolled data available to everyone. This sharing of data is already creating opportunities for collaboration, innovation, and business in industries, yet maritime is slow to catch on. Is it making a mistake?

The open data concept encourages companies to share their data so that it is freely available to everyone. Companies use open data as a basis for research and some are using it to create whole new business models. Initiatives have even been established that offer support for startups and SMEs that use open data.

The maritime industry is already taking advantage of other capabilities that have emerged in the digital age such as blockchain for paperless documentation. However, as an historically closed sector, maritime is showing reluctance to share data on insights such as shipping lines, fuel use, or environmental reports on marine life. But companies are emerging in the industry that support making data available. Windward, for instance, provides organizations with valuable maritime-related data and risk insights to improve overall safety at sea.

So, what’s the concern?

There are a number of barriers that prevent companies from sharing data. Many companies are concerned that by making data public, competitors will be able to access strategic information and use it to their advantage. Small or private enterprises may not even have the capacity for data collection. To relieve these concerns and encourage open data sharing, the industry could increase its efforts to introduce initiatives, policies, and public sharing forums. Doing so would promote better standards for data sharing, as well as better quality of data, which could bring industry-wide benefits.

Open data could create a greener future

Should the maritime industry share its data more openly with other companies and research organizations, it could benefit from both economic and environmental sustainability.

  • Startups and business: By sharing data, third parties can see gaps in the market and areas ripe for innovation. Take for example MarineTraffic.com: Ships have been required to share their position using an automatic identification system (AIS) for years to ensure safety at sea. MarineTraffic took advantage of this data to monitor the global fleet, learn more on ship density in certain waters, and increase transparency in the industry. In doing so, it demonstrates the business potential of open data. New business ideas such as these and the pooling of data creates better collaboration across the industry, promoting innovation and increased business potential for the future.
  • Green and sustainable: Environmental sustainability has been a growing topic in maritime for the past decade or so and green tech was a central theme at many events this year. Should sensors, trackers, and other such technologies be placed on major shipping routes, vessels, or at ports, the data that could be collected would be vast. The US Coast Guard already collects and publishes datasets on ship positions, energy use, pollution, incidents and more. This provides researchers with valuable information about the impact of shipping on biodiversity and the marine environment along major shipping routes. Studies made using open data could lead to the creation of more efficient shipping routes and protect particularly vulnerable waters. With strict green policies on the horizon, data sharing could be a great help in meeting them.

Time the industry opened up?

Some enterprises may be skeptical, concerned that data sharing would leave them vulnerable to the competition. But it’s not business critical or personal data that open data supporters are encouraging. Keeping data behind closed doors, it seems the industry is missing out on valuable opportunities for sustainability in terms of business and the environment. Opening up to sharing data of marine life, vessel movements, pollution incidents, temporal changes etc., the maritime industry will be able to create a much cleaner future for the industry – an important consideration in light of tightening environmental policies.

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