In the fast-paced world of information and communications technology, everything from software to hardware can change and evolve in the blink of an eye. On shore locations have become used to these rapid developments, but traditionally the marine and shipping sector has lagged behind. However, that is now set to change due in no small part to the falling cost of satellite communications. The line between the office environment and the marine environment is becoming blurred, opening up a whole new range of possibilities for ICT in the marine and shipping sector. Vessels can now be regarded as an extension of the onshore office suite through a range of IT solutions that can deliver budget savings as well as streamlined operations.
The increased accessibility of communication links allows for round the clock monitoring of on-board systems, whether the vessel is at sea or in port, automatically synchronising the working day of offshore and onshore personnel. Converged voice communications, instant messaging and video links – solutions that were never thought possible only a few years ago – are set to become commonplace. There is the potential to revolutionise day-to-day working practices for companies in the marine and shipping sector, whether they operate a large fleet or own a single vessel.
ICT specialists Skibo Technologies have seized the opportunity to meet the demands of the sector, with the launch of a dedicated marine division. Based in Aberdeen, the company has undertaken vessel IT upgrades throughout the UK, and has also recently completed a project on behalf of a client in India.
Managing director Mark Mair, with over 25 years of experience in ICT, and being based in the oil and gas capital of Europe, has built up a wealth of knowledge of the energy and offshore sectors. He predicts that the shipping and marine industry will see rapid advances in technology now that the communications links that are so vital to modernising working practices are becoming more affordable for all sizes of companies.
ICT developments such as cloud-based computing, which gives users the ability to store data and software on a virtual online server instead of their own computer, and collaboration offerings from the likes of Microsoft, Cisco, and others can now be made available regardless of whether the end user is land-based or at sea.
“The biggest single factor preventing maritime systems and traditional office systems from being converged has been the availability of cost effective communications links to the fleet. Many vessel owners are now providing ‘always on’ connections to their fleet and this has opened up the possibilities for how ICT is approached in relation to the marine sector. From an ICT perspective, a vessel is now seen as just another remote office as the IT systems can be monitored in real time,” says Mark.
“Preventive maintenance on the ICT systems can now take place while the vessel is at sea, but in the past any issues would have to be dealt with when a ship was in port, often on very short turn around times. Collaboration between the crew and the office is now no different to that of land based IT users. For example, virtual meetings in real-time can now be held using voice, instant messaging and, where possible, video links, while safety briefings can now be carried out across an entire fleet in real time.”
Features such as instant messaging enables a company to see when a crew member is online and communicate with them more effectively, while desktop sharing allows a ship’s crew and office-based personnel onshore to work on the same shared data in real time. What would have previously taken days, or in some cases required a face to face meeting between crew and office staff can now happen regardless of where the vessel is located.
Mark explains: “Most vessel owners see the benefit of extending their ICT network to include the fleet. The cost of fitting out a vessel with the latest ICT systems represents only a small part of the cost of operating a vessel, and anything that improves the operational abilities of the vessel through improved ICT systems is therefore seen as a benefit with a short return on investment time.
“The huge investment previously required to install appropriate satellite communications has made the full range of ICT solutions either prohibitive or completely inaccessible for some companies, but we believe that this is now going to change and we will see many more firms upgrading. There will come a time when ICT in the marine environment will be able to operate on a level very close to on-shore.”
Mark says Skibo Technologies realised there was an opportunity to provide dedicated ICT solutions to the marine sector, and recognising that it would become a growing market, felt the time was right to expand the range of services available from the company. The marine division will provide the whole range of services – design and specification of ICT solutions, a shored-based build and test facility, rapid on-vessel deployment and support together with dedicated 24/7 system monitoring.
Mark says: “We have rolled out ICT systems for several shipping companies over the past few years, for example, we were approached by one company who were concerned about the amount of IT support issues they were experiencing on the vessel network. We were asked to design a solution that provided a secure and ‘locked down’ platform for their environment whilst still being able to support their legacy applications. The solution we designed was rolled out across the entire fleet of six vessels, and the result has been a dramatic decrease in ICT-related issues, and more importantly, with minimum disruption to the operation of the fleet.
“There is no restriction to the type of vessel that we can work with. To date, we have installed our systems on oil supply vessels, standby support and fishing boats. With a dedicated marine division, Skibo Technologies we will be better placed than ever to provide reliable and honest strategic advice and solutions to our clients.”
Based at 5 Rubislaw Place, Aberdeen, Skibo Technologies provides complete computing infrastructure and collaboration solutions.
For further information on Skibo Technologies services, visit www.skibo.com
or call 01224 793970.