In Depth: Save the data!

Interesting times are ahead of us. Technology is rapidly getting more advanced, digitalising all aspects of our lives. The maritime industry has always embraced innovation, so digitalisation has stepped aboard of this industry as well.

A major advantage of digitalising information for business practices is the possibility to collect and analyse enormous amounts of data. This can provide in-depth insights which can help improve business practices. However, the endless stream of information – also called big data – has to be managed carefullyfully to provide such advantages. Maritime Holland spoke to several managers in the industry about managing big data.

Shipping industry

Gaby Steentjes is fleet director of shipping company Flinter, based in Barendrecht, the Netherlands. The Flinter fleet is creating much data, such as fuel consumption, position, time and speed.

“It is a huge challenge to translate these enormous amounts of data into interpretable outcomes. So far, we have used our data for low-hanging fruit solutions, which reduced fuel consumption by ten to 15 per cent. We can also indicate poor performing engines by looking at our ships’ data and improve maintenance. Now it is time to dive deeper into the system and make more complex analysis. We are aiming to pick the high-hanging fruits as well!”

The indication of target areas need complicated data analysis, which can currently be out of reach. Flinter has a positive view on the future and hopes to provide a tool to make calculations which are currently unavailable. Therefore, the shipping company saves its data, even if it does not provide new insights today. Another hope for the future is that costs for satellite usage will drop.

“Nowadays, it is quite expensive to make use of the satellite connection. Therefore, we’re minimising the usage, trying to use the 3G mobile internet network when possible. When something seems to be wrong with the vessel, our onshore employees can take over the vessel’s IT systems by using the 3G network. However, when we are sailing the high seas we are out of reach of the 3G connectivity. We then buffer our data, and send it onshore when we have 3G connection again. As the prices for the 3G network have dropped in recent years, we strongly believe and hope the same will happen to the costs of the satellite connectivity.’’

Inland shipping

Big data plays an important role for the inland shipping industry as well, according to Contargo. Contargo is a service provider for container logistics in the European hinterland, including inland shipping as well as railway and transport logistics. Heinrich Kerstgens, manager of Contargo explains more about big data for inland shipping purposes. “Big data for Contargo means collecting information of all kinds of events that influence or have influenced our transportation process. This includes traffic data and notifications from Rhine shipping and our railways for example. Therefore, Contargo is building a central data pool and a message-orientated middleware
– MOM – with advanced database technologies.”

A MOM supports sending and receiving messages between distributed systems, both synchronous and asynchronous. An advantage of MOMs over other communicating systems is that a MOM can send messages to servers that are down without having to resend them. The middleware makes it possible for Contargo to control their transport processes via different modes of transports or routes.

Kerstgens: “The analyses of this data can help us to create more transparency in individual processes and to take action in time when abnormalities and errors occur in our trimodal – via water, roads and railway – container network. Furthermore, by the use of this data, we can inform customers across locations about the transportation status or easily compose the right invoice.”

Gateway to Europe

The link between shipping activities and hinterland transport is a port. Big data is an important focus for the port of Rotterdam as well, explains Smart-Port 2.0 director Michiel Jak. SmartPort 2.0 is an unique collaboration between the academic and the practical world, all for the benefit of the port of Rotterdam. The founding partners are the Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam, the Technical University Delft, municipality Rotterdam, the Port of Rotterdam and Deltalinqs. Jak knows the importance of data, as with Smart-Port 2.0, research data will be made accessible to tackle challenges in the port area.
“The amount of sea containers that enter the port of Rotterdam will double or triple during the next decennia”, says Jak.

This is because of the extension of the port of Rotterdam and supporting infrastructure on reclaimed land: Maasvlakte 2. “The motorway A15 is the main connection for the road transport of the containers to the hinterland. About twenty hours a day, this connection can be used without any problems, but transporting during rush hour costs both time and money.”

This is one of the few examples how big data can be applied by the port of Rotterdam. “Only with smarter transporting methods, Rotterdam can hold the position as being the gateway to Europe.”


All three managers have pointed out the importance of analysing huge amounts of data. However, things have to be done to take full potential of the outcome of this data.

“In this industry we collect data, but we still need more willingness to share all data. We are trying to make a step forward by working together with colleges, associations and IT providers”, says Contargo manager Kerstgens.

However, technical innovation alone does not guarantee practical success according to Flinter manager Steentjes: “Awareness among employees is the first step you have to accomplish. Once you say you are actually measuring data, you can already steer the actual behaviour of employees just by saying that. But, once you show the positive results of the modifications which you performed because of earlier collected data, they will become aware and show ownership.”

Steentjes concludes that a shift in the management approach is key to successful implementation of big data in the maritime industry. He explains by comparing the maritime industry to the aviation and space industry.

“These industries have a history of being connected to the home base. The sentence ‘Houston, we’ve got a problem’ is over 45 years old, but a perfect example of the connectivity of these ‘captains’ with the ‘main land’. However, the maritime industry has a history of sailors who left their families for longer periods of time, when it was much harder to stay in touch with their home basis.” Therefore, captains nowadays need the support of the management, who should sympathise with their employees and embrace the new possibilities of big data.

Timo Meester

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