COVID-19 has been a catalyst, driving change borne out of necessity, but it is a change that will redefine the way we work in the future, writes James Forsdyke, Lloyd’s Register.
We had expected that the 2020s would be a transformational decade, but none of us ever anticipated that its first year would involve such a severe test for the world.
As coronavirus has moved from east to west, the COVID-19 pandemic has redefined ‘normal’ with individuals, businesses and governments having to face some of the most significant challenges in living memory.
In recent months, as an industry we have collectively grappled with new and different routines, many of which have hinged on our ability to work from home, accessing the people, programs and virtual locations we require and the connections – sometimes frustratingly slow – that ensure their availability.
Many of these tools were at our disposal pre-crisis but as the saying goes ‘old habits die hard’ and a lot of us stuck with the familiar – those tried and tested practices well within our comfort zones.
COVID-19 has definitely been a catalyst, driving change borne out of necessity, but this change will redefine ways of working for the longer term. For everyone in maritime, Lloyd’s Register (LR) included, remote capability has been critical in recent months as we have all had to respond in difficult quarantine scenarios, managing multiple stakeholders, including Flags and Port Authorities to keep clients, employees, ships and cargo safe and sailing.
The collective and collaborative efforts across the sector have been vital in ensuring critical supply chains remain open so that food, medical, energy and household supplies needed to fight this pandemic are readily available to society.
The challenges that shipping has encountered since the Lunar New Year has spurred many shipowners to take advantage of remote surveys to keep their ships in operation. And while LR has been able to support clients with surveys without attendance for a number of years, in common with many of its peers, it has witnessed accelerated demand for these services in recent weeks.
All those that assure the safety of seafarers, ships and cargoes are mindful that the appropriate technology must be used in the right situation and there will be circumstances where physical attendance is a necessity, but the take-up and acceptance of digital alternatives is certain to remain once this exceptional period is over. As the world acclimatises to this more modern way of working, remote techniques will be permanent feature of the marine industry.
Human expertise is still important
However, this does not negate the importance of people. Technology is an enabler, but the value continues to be the human expertise and experience – there are still experts reviewing inputs and making decisions based on their experience. Remote Surveys are just a subset of remote and technology-enabled working and as we all become more comfortable working differently because of the changes imposed on us, we will find new ways to deliver value to those we serve centred on our core skills and expertise.
Building confidence in digital services
Remote solutions need more than ever to be collaborative, and the industry needs to focus on partnerships with all connected parties to ensure we keep the world moving and maintain critical supply chains. Certification is relied on across a much wider community than contractual counterparts, and therefore that community needs to see value in the products and services for these solutions to endure.
As an industry, we must embrace the safe and cost-effective use of digital techniques to equip classification societies with the means to provide safety assurance of ships and assets remotely, reducing the necessity to get personnel on board ships.
Digitising services must become the norm rather than be the exception, with traditional physical attendance surveys being enhanced and supplemented by remote surveys and data, through the use of digital technology such as digital twins, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. We must build confidence that safety levels and availability of ships can be maintained at all times.
Having harnessed and appreciated the power of the remote connections during a period of extreme strain, there is no question that the maritime industry’s appetite and acceptance of new technology will remain when this crisis passes. It is also likely that the pace of technology take-up will accelerate given that the sector has been forced to look beyond its traditional approach.
James Forsdyke is Head of Product Management, Marine & Offshore, Lloyd’s Register.