Maritime influencers


Ben Palmer: Inmarsat Maritime – Transforming vessels into floating offices: The business perspective

Ben Palmer, President, Inmarsat Maritime

The transformation of ships into ‘floating offices’ emphasises the importance of ‘always-on’ and ‘secure-by-design’ connectivity to enhance maritime operations, says Inmarsat report ‘The Digital Wave’.

Published by Inmarsat Maritime, a Viasat company, The Digital Wave: Transforming vessels into floating offices and remote homes examines how crews and shore-based teams are using digital technologies today – and the connectivity they are relying on for both work and leisure time.

In compiling the report, Inmarsat surveyed approximately 60 ship owners and operators on their current and anticipated use of digital technologies. Among those surveyed, 83% said they anticipate a greater reliance on digital applications within the next five years.

The adoption of continuous remote monitoring systems on ships alerts crews to potential equipment failures early, reducing downtime while helping to control excessive fuel consumption. Additionally, cutting-edge technologies such as virtual reality, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence are being used alongside video conferencing to enable shore-based engineers to assist onboard personnel with equipment troubleshooting and maintenance.

Ron Welles, C-Comm Manager at Edison Chouest Offshore, explained: “We have offices in Norway, Singapore, Louisiana, and Brazil, and getting everybody to pull up the same screen, look at the same information, and diagnose the problem on the vessel has been invaluable to us. We now probably do around 80% of our maintenance remotely without going to the vessel.”

As ships become more dependent on connected digital tools, they are increasingly functioning as ‘floating offices’ – a concept that sees a departure from the conventional maritime model in which vessels are operated and managed in isolation. In the floating office concept, onboard systems and processes are integrated with onshore and cloud-based infrastructure to enable the fast, uninterrupted flow of information between ship and shore.

“With significantly improved connectivity, vessels will become floating offices that are seamlessly integrated with IT systems on shore and in the cloud,” said Dr Dominik Pfeiffer, Director of Fleet IT at Hapag-Lloyd. “A reliable high-speed Internet connection will allow us to move critical IT functions like email or identity and access management to the cloud instead of maintaining it on all vessels. This will realise cost savings. Remote inspections by means of video streaming will partially replace costly travel to vessels. Furthermore, crews will gain access to the whole range of IT services that were hitherto only available on shore and will eventually share the same IT experience as their colleagues in the office.”

Always on, cyber secure by design

However, congestion in connectivity hotspots such as ports can impact the reliability of connectivity services. This is particularly critical as ships near shore and navigation becomes more complex, increasing the demand for bandwidth-intensive processes.  

Of the ship owners and operators surveyed, 67% confirmed that their dependence on digital tools and applications increases as the vessel approaches shore, with 63% stating they rely more heavily on remote operations close to port where navigation is more complex. 

“Since crews need critical applications at any given time to do their work, [connectivity] systems need to be always on,” added Dr Pfeiffer. “With these high-availability requirements in mind, we carefully observe the new high-speed products emerging in the market.” 

Dr Pfeiffer’s position on ‘always-on’ vessel connectivity is shared by the vast majority of the survey respondents, with 93% describing the capacity to be connected at all times, without interruption, as extremely or very important.

Yet the more connected a vessel is to the outside world, the more vulnerable it is to cyber-attacks. When Inmarsat asked the ship owners and operators to rate on a scale of 1–10 the importance of cyber security to their operations, the average number chosen was 9, with 55% of respondents selecting 10 – ‘critically important’.

Another requirement for modern onboard connectivity, therefore, is ‘secure by design’ – whereby network protection measures are integrated into systems during development.

A game-changer for maritime communications

As a response to the maritime industry’s evolving digitalisation requirements – and an example of what Dr Pfeiffer terms “the new high-speed products emerging in the market” – Inmarsat’s NexusWave will facilitate the transformation of ships into seamlessly connected, high-performing floating offices.

The newly launched fully managed connectivity service is underpinned by a bonded multi-orbit network, integrating multiple high-speed networks in real time – Global Xpress Ka-band, low-Earth orbit services, and as-available coastal LTE – with an additional layer of L-band for resiliency – for fast, always-on connectivity. It also includes enterprise grade firewall security trusted by global enterprises and governments.

Delivered by a single provider as a unified solution, NexusWave offers complete transparency on total cost of ownership with no unexpected charges, meaning that vessels are reliably and securely connected to high-speed Internet at all times – even in hotspots close to shore or in busy shipping lanes.

“Designed to provide an unmatched experience in line with evolving customer requirements, NexusWave is a game-changer for maritime communications,” commented Ben Palmer, President, Inmarsat Maritime. “Enabled by high-speed connectivity, unlimited data, global coverage, and secure-by-design infrastructure, it delivers certainty ship owners, managers and operators need to transform their ships into floating offices and reap the rewards of digitalisation for optimised maritime operations.”

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