Big Data : The new wave in the Maritime World

Issues Details: 
Vol 10 Issue 6 Jan - Feb 2017
Page No.: 
Sub Title: 
The pros and cons of the Big Data Revolution
Editorial Team
Monday, February 6, 2017

Information technology has gathered transformational momentum since the beginning of the 21st century and penetrated every facet of human activity. It became the new currency which offered enormous opportunities for exploiting information revolution and help develop technological strengths. Also, it has been an enabler for improving efficiency, augmenting productivity, and timely delivery. In evidence was rapid rise in information and communication technologies such as satellites, communication highways (terrestrial and submarine), digital systems and networks, and complex integrating systems to transport large volumes of data engendered by a variety of sensors and devices across the globe in short time.

In the second decade of the 21st century, mankind is witnessing another revolution driven by the Big Data. It is estimated that the digital domain contains nearly 2.8 trillion gigabytes (GB) of data and about 90% of this was generated in the last two years. This is expected to grow to nearly 40 trillion GB by 2020. By 2025, the Internet of Things (IoT) will exceed 100 billion connected devices, each with multiple sensors collecting data. This Big Data will result in a trillion-sensor economy centered on data revolution, beyond our present state of imagination.

Big Data is defined as “a massive collection of digital data that is so large and complex to make difficult its processing by using traditional data management tools and techniques.” The genesis and use of the term can be traced to the early 2000s and was located in the understanding that businesses, professions or vocations, in the course of their operations, generate enormous amount of data on a daily basis. The users and stakeholders of Big data are swamped, overwhelmed and could also be suffering from ‘information and data overload’. Only a limited amount of data is utilized by respective agencies for decisions and strategic business initiatives and a large volume of data is left underutilized or unused.

A recent report has identified Big Data as a game changer and listed it among the top five future trends in the coming decade in the global maritime industry. The report has argued that advances in big data analytics will help commercial world to make better forecasts enabling them ‘greater visibility into market and pricing trends’.

Big Data is inextricably linked to sea based commerce. There are over 100,000 ships registered with the International Maritime Organization, an arm of the United Nations, and another 300,000 ships are engaged in commerce and other marine related activities such as transporting a variety of cargoes such as bulk cargo, oil and gas, grain and containers, conducting scientific surveys, servicing sea based platforms including submarine cables. These crisscross through the oceans and create a maritime eco-system (ships, ports and associated supply chains) which generate enormous amount of digital data accrued from various activities enumerated above. 

The maritime sector has been quick to embrace the Big Data revolution and obtain strategic, commercial and financial advantages. It has been noted that the ‘arrival and acceleration of ‘big data’ in shipping is starting to signal a sea change in how the industry and its customers plan for the future’. For instance, a large container vessel is fitted with over 2,000 onboard sensors and downloads as much as 2 GB of information which is available to managers ashore. Similarly, Maersk shipping line downloads two gigabytes of data from each ship daily which are equipped with about 2,000 sensors and 450 kilometers of cables. Further, whole of the Maersk fleet of about 400 owned and chartered ships totals up data counts 30 terabytes every month.

Similarly, ports are using intelligent systems, to ensure intelligent supply chains. These will help them to enhance the “quality and efficiency of the port as an important link in the supply chain – taking account of both economic and ecological aspects”.

The mandatory Automatic Identification System (AIS), a satellite-based, real-time reporting mechanism for the position of ships can now serve as an electronic highway and facilitate transporting information on voyages, cargos, bills of lading and shipper details providing market strategists a better understanding of trade routes and commodity movements.  Further, these will not only help the maritime shipping ecosystem to mitigate potential business risks but also transform challenges into opportunities.

At another level, the maritime eco-system is vulnerable to neo-maritime security threats and challenges. Although international efforts to ensure physical safety and security of maritime infrastructure are noteworthy, cyber risks to maritime infrastructure are real and prevention and mitigation of these is an important issue for global trade. Ports (vessel traffic management system, cargo data and port operations) and shipping companies (data of cargo, ship disposition, future routing, crew management, etc.) are vulnerable to cyber-attacks. According to one report, the online defences of 16 of the world’s top 20 container carriers had serious security gaps’ and ship based computers and servers (electronic charts, onboard navigation and propulsion systems, safety and security sensors, other devices and instruments) are potential targets for cyber-attacks. There are already a few documented incidents of cyber-attacks on maritime infrastructure wherein the perpetrators successfully penetrated the networked computing systems.

Likewise, the AIS is vulnerable to ‘data manipulation’. According to a study, the international shipping manipulates AIS data for a number of reasons and  there has been 30 per cent increase in the number of ships reporting false identities. Nearly 40 per cent of the ships do not report their next port of call to support commodity operators to engage in speculation. However, AIS can also serve as an analytical tool to monitor the vessel’s operational and machinery efficiency. It can be integrated with commercial information to give shipping analysts a clearer understanding of how trade routes evolve over time.

The global seaborne trade has continued to expand since 1980s and in 2014 it grew by 3.4 per cent and totalled 9.84 billion tons of cargo, or four fifths of total world merchandise trade. A study by the International Transport Forum forecasts that the development of global freight volumes between 2010 and 2050 will witness “intensification of global trade, maritime shipping being a central element.” The study notes that freight volumes transiting through the Indian Ocean are expected to grow by nearly 400 per cent till 2050. The trends are clear indictors that the maritime shipping eco-system will generates a deluge of data which would require different techniques to analyze and make critical assessments.

India is an important trading nation and about 90 per cent of its trade by volume and 70 per cent by value is carried through maritime transport. The shipping and the port sectors cover a wide range of services and play an important role in promoting trade. According to the World Ports Ranking, in 2014, two of India’s major ports - Jawaharlal Nehru Port and Madras Port - figured in the top 100 ports. Sagarmala is a major initiative of the Indian Government to bring dynamism in the port sector. The Sagarmala project focuses on port-led development integrated with special economic zones, smart cities, industrial parks, logistics hubs and transport corridors.

At the maiden Maritime India Summit 2016 in Mumbai, nearly 83,000 crore (US $13 billion) investment commitments in the shipping, ports and allied sectors were announced.  The government plans to invest 12 lakh crore over the next ten years to develop 27 industrial clusters, and to improve connectivity with ports through new rail and road projects.

Similarly, Blue Economy is resonating among the India leadership and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has observed that “India’s quest for economic prosperity through oceans is a part of our larger efforts to transform India and “Sagar”, which means “Ocean” and stands for – Security And Growth for All in the Region”. By all counts, Blue Economy is information technology intensive and requires smart, synergistic, innovative technological solutions for the oceans and coasts whilst safeguarding and protecting the marine environment.

Blue economy comprises traditional sectors involving ports, shipping, shipbuilding, fishing, tourism, hydrography and emerging sectors such as aquaculture, ocean-based renewable energy, marine biotechnology, blue carbon, environmental remediation technologies etc. The emerging sectors are expected to generate a new work force with skill to develop sea based ocean economics, environmental and ecological economics and ecosystem services, biodiversity conservation and remediation and industrial ecology. Given the complexity and diversity of maritime eco-system, these will generate enormous amounts of data during the conduct of their activities and operations.

Several big and small countries and companies and enterprises have begun Big Data programmes for multi-sided business models. There is also a frantic move to create skilled workforce and experts caution shortages of qualified human resources. For instance, according to the McKinsey Global Institute, by 2018 the US could “face a shortage of as many as 190,000 people with deep analytical skills”.

The global maritime shipping industry is beginning to embrace the opportunities provided by Big Data revolution and using it to their advantages. In a similar vein, the future of Indian maritime industry will be determined by how quickly the stakeholders and operators including government and private stakeholders take advantage of Big Data revolution.

The National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) , a trade association of Indian Information Technology (IT) and Business Process has created an analytics interest group of about 18 to 19 companies to identify and define core competencies as also provide training professionals and students in big data and analytics. Though it may take several months for this trained human resource being available to support the national Big Data roadmap, a good beginning has been made.