The global maritime industry is cautiously optimistic about the global business environment for world trade but also concerned about the potential impact of trade tensions, cybersecurity, fuel costs and other headwinds to industry recovery, according to a new survey by the Business Performance Innovation (BPI Network) in partnership with Navis.
Some 82% of survey participants anticipate either improved profitability over the next 12 months or continued stabilization and reduced losses, according to the Navis Business Bellwether report. Growth is expected to come from all regions of the world, with particularly robust activity in Asia and the Middle East/Africa.
“A return to industry growth and improvements in shipping supply and demand have resulted in increased optimism among maritime industry executives and professionals,” said Dave Murray, head of thought leadership for the BPI Network. “At the same time, the industry appears to be very focused on raising operational performance and profitability through improvements in process quality and efficiency and increased investments in technology.”
While just 12% of respondents are “very optimistic” about the global business environment, another 46% express cautious optimism. Some 41% say they are either somewhat or very concerned.
Underscoring this tempered optimism, Brian Hibbert, CIO of International Container Terminal Services, said he does not expect rapid improvement in the industry’s business performance. “I would not expect a significant change in profitability in the next 12 months. I expect more activity when it comes to mergers and acquisitions in the terminal operating space as companies try to optimize their portfolios to achieve a profitable position,” Hibbert said.
Trade Wars a Big Concern
Topping the list of industry concerns is the rise in trade protectionism and new tariffs. One-third of all survey respondents said they were “extremely concerned” about trade tensions, with another 36% saying they were concerned. Cyber sCybersecurityso high on the list, with 29% indicating extreme concern and another 37% expressing concern.
Only 11% of respondents were extremely concerned about an economic slowdown. However, when assessing potential risks to the industry, economic growth ranked high and just below trade protectionism. Other top risks include rising fuel costs, a lack of process efficiency, continued industry consolidation, and labor disruption.
Technology and Process Improvement
Technology investments will increase over the next 12 months, according to the survey. Some 90% of respondents said their organizations would raise technology spending, including 56% who said the increase would be 6 percent or greater. Adoption of new technologies was also cited as one of the top three priorities of companies for improving performance, behind only improving process efficiency and quality and bettering customer service and satisfaction.
The top areas for increased technology spending, in descending order, include automation, business intelligence, planning and management systems, big data analytics, and SaaS applications and cloud services. Much discussed technologies like Blockchain and IoT sensors were significant lower on the priority list.
At an industry level, respondents point to the need for improved collaboration and operational planning across the supply chain as the most important priority, followed by supply chain visibility. Most see the industry’s capacity to share data as needing dramatic improvement. Respondents were virtually unanimous about the need for standardization of data interfaces to improve data sharing and collaboration.
“The study indicates that their seems to be a dichotomy between the high priority to improve performance and industry health by leveraging new technology, and slow progress to date towards achieving digital transformation,” said Andy Barrons, Chief Strategy Officer and head of portfolio product management at Navis. “We are also seeing that data standardization is needed, and the industry culture and the capacity to share data needs more improvement.”
“This (data sharing) will continue to improve and evolve. Data sharing within the maritime supply chain has been established and is already mature, said Mark Wootton, CIO at Yilport. “The criticism may be that it is generally based on outdated technology and protocols and these need to be updated, but the core concepts, message contents and process flows have not changed dramatically. Where there is a new need is in the integration of operational technology, sensors/IOT and integrating these into traditional terminal management systems.”
“Trustworthy platforms need to be set up which permit data collaboration without interfering in and negatively impacting the business model of the individual business partners,” according to Andreas Mrozek, Global Head of Marine & Terminal Operations (OPS), Hamburg Sud. “Once having such data pool(s) available, advanced technologies will greatly help to improve planning and execution of vessel operation, terminal operation, truck operation, rail operation and many other aspects. On top of that, sufficient investment into infrastructure in bottlenecks (for example terminals) will unlock significant value in the maritime transport chain.”