Giampiero Soncini, Director, Volaris Marine Division, shared his concerns on “The present and future of Fleet management Systems“ during his presentation at the 2017 SMART4SEA Conference & Awards. He explained that currently the idea of crewless vessels has become a serious one, from a laughable topic, with large companies and Classification Societies looking deeply and really into it. On the other hand, technology is moving fast and at times it is somewhat pitiful to look into the world of shipping, compared to other similar transportation sectors. However, there are still so many companies reluctant to embrace technology or they show sheer ignorance of the advantages. Mr. Soncini argued that his 30 year-old experience has shown that having a computerized Fleet Management system onboard will be of value. Yet, the lesson is clear: sooner or later, those who have not embraced technology will disappear.
I will try to convince all of you from the very beginning that if you don’t innovate you are going to die. I’ve been in information technology in shipping all my life. I’ve been in shipping for 45 years and all of them starting from where I was involved in automation design and installation and entirely focused on how to make ships better and smarter using technology. And after a lifetime dedicated to this, sometimes I wonder myself if it would have been better to play guitar and enjoy my other life which is music, because it’s very difficult to innovate the maritime industry. Yet everything has changed. If you look at the past: when I started shipping, there was the Morse system, then we moved to telex, and then to the first mobile phone, NOKIA and Apple phone. The Apple phone is already 10 years old, the NOKIA phone is 20 years old, and the first mobile phone is 30 years old. So, in this span of 30 years things have happened very quickly, they have been revolutionized very quickly. Transportation is a similar example, in shipping the same thing happened; Things are moving ahead. We have moved from the Derbyshire class vessels that had 40-42 crews to vessels with 17 crew members onboard; I was shocked when a recent survey showed that only 17% of people think that we are not moving to crewless vessels. In 2007, at a conference I said that ships were going to be crewless and people probably thought I was nuts. In 2013, I was almost booed at; I had a confrontation during a conference. One guy stood up and said: “If ships are to have no crew, I hope I will be gone by then”. Well, there is absolutely no doubt. Ships will have no crew because (with the right technology) there is absolutely no need to have crews on board ships.
If you really think that to send the ship from Le Havre to New York you need a crew onboard, you have never sailed. And the technology to do this is available since more than 10-20 years. I installed the ECDIS in 1995 on the ship I was managing. We’re talking about condition based maintenance, I had it on the ship I managed in 1988. So, we are simply talking about the fact that technology is there but even in shipping we don’t move very fast, technology is the trend. It’s going to happen (we will have vessels with reduced crews). I’m very sorry for crewing companies, of course, I understand they will be out of business but that’s reality. The fact that you just cover your eyes and you don’t want to think about it cannot help it. So what happens? We are moving. We think we are technologically aware but we are like Neanderthal men.
What we need to do is really use innovation to move to the right part. And essentially use again information technology for what it is supposed to be: manage our vessels in a much better way. If we think that as European ship owners we can compete against China as we really don’t have any idea of how difficult this is going to be. I insist there is no way we can compete against them, except by applying technology in a much faster and smarter way than they do. There are a lot of people who say they don’t need innovation thinking they can survive saying that they have always worked this way and still have successful companies, so who cares? And this is exactly what NOKIA used to think; I mean there was a period in time when NOKIA had 85% of the mobile market, 50% in the USA where they had the competition from Blackberry. What did they do? They failed to innovate. Blackberry was the professional choice of mobile phone in the USA, Researching in Motion was the most successful Canadian company ever; they basically disappeared. I think some of you will remember that Kodak was 80% of the photograph business or digital equipment, and Digital Equipment basically dominated the high level computer market: they all disappeared for a very simple reason; they all failed to innovate. Even for technological companies like they were, they simply stood firm and said: “We are too good, we are number 1” and they forgot that innovation is the key to survival.
So, in shipping the resistance to change is very big and in general the resistance to change is a human attitude. We all like to reach a level where we feel secure and very happy about what we have reached and know what we are doing and every challenge to our day to day routine is taken as a negative impact. And because shipping is such an old industry, we probably are the first ones who resist to innovation, and I’ve noticed this throughout my career in 30 years from starting to work with AMOS, today and sometimes it still happens: I go to some customer who doesn’t use any fleet management system and I still argue to explain to him that fleet management solutions do work, you still need information system onboard, you still can make it happen even if you change crews and they look at me saying that I’m wrong and that they are right.
So, what happens is that given the actual condition of the market, whoever invested has innovated when the market was rich, now they are doing well, or at least surviving without many problems. Those who have failed to innovate don’t know where exactly to cut cost, they basically try to slash it, they don’t have the means to controls, they don’t know how many spares they have onboard, they don’t know how much fuel they should really be consuming because they never compare the fuel consumption from one ship to the other. And so what happens is that they basically die. One of the most amazing things that I found during the last 9 years of surviving the crisis like everybody else, is that every single shipping company, give or take one or two, which has gone bankrupt in shipping none of them had the fleet management solutions, none of them had a software such as AMOS or others with which to control their cost, their engine performance, their quality and safety documentation, their ISM code, you name it, one after the other. So, the best way to fail is not to continue to innovate
Essentially, innovation was not something we created; it was something has always existed. The problem is how to make use of it and how to continue to make use of it. If you stop using it, if you think it’s normal to have a mobile phone for your own personal use but not for a professional use you are basically failing to innovate. And remember the Darwin law: it is not the strongest who survives but the one who better adapts to change.
Above text is an edited article of Giampiero Soncini’s presentation during the 2017 SMART4SEA Conference & Awards
You may view his video presentation by clicking here
The views presented hereabove are only those of the author and not necessarily those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only.
About Giampiero Soncini, Director, Volaris Marine Division
Giampiero Soncini has been currently appointed the Director of Volaris Marine Division, which is a new Business Unit, created with the aim of enlarging the portfolio of Volaris owned companies in the maritime vertical. His task is to select companies to buy, drive the acquisition process and manage them during the transition phase towards the Volaris Group. Previously, he has been for over than ten years the Chief Executive Officer of the SpecTec Group, a Holding specialized in IT for shipping and offshore, with 20 offices worldwide, and 300 employees. His main areas of competence include: Information Technology and Communication in shipping; Computerized Planned Maintenance Systems for Ships, plants and oil rigs noise and vibration control management of offices and companies; ship building and ship management sales and marketing. Giampiero finds the world to be his home; he travels for work up to 9 months which is something that particularly enjoys giving him a unique experience and vision of the whole world at the same time. He loves music, of all types but especially blues and rock. His passion for music has allowed him to meet and befriend several well-known performers such as the Deep Purple, Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Glenn Hughes, Buddy Whittington and more. In his scarce free time, Giampiero is the manager of Minus One, Cyprus best known rock band. Giampiero is from Italy but currently lives in Limassol, Cuprus.