- Technology - Innovation can build a bridge to digitalisation

By SuperyachtNews

Innovation can build a bridge to digitalisation

Captain Jan Thordan Hansen, director, global business development, Sperry Marine, examines the perennial challenge between product development and technological advancement…

A truly innovative business is one that can anticipate its customer’s desires while also providing for their needs. If that sounds like a contradiction then it only serves to illustrate the challenge that many businesses face in adapting to the era of rapid digitalisation.

Being able to marry these competing demands requires the ability to adapt a sometimes traditional business-to-business mindset to a market where the speed of technology adoption can outstrip product development cycles. For example, the evolution of superyacht bridge design has been driven by increasing requests from designers for systems that combine a very strong aesthetic quality with the Type Approval that provides high levels of safety and reliability. It is doubly true when the area of operation is not concerned with fuel savings or schedule keeping, but the regulated safety space on the bridge. The requirement for Type Approved, standards-based systems for navigation safety are a far cry from an app-based efficiency gain or drone-based spare parts delivery. 

For a company that has navigation systems in its DNA, it has become a natural extension for us to think about what digitalisation can do for our customers; more and more of them are working to combine enhanced functionality with improved connectivity from bridge to shore.  

Every superyacht bridge is bespoke; no two are the same. But superyachts are fully ocean-going vessels, so safety is the priority. A Type Approved bridge system must provide the look and feel that owners demand but also the redundancy and back-up the boat needs.

Sperry Marine’s technology is trusted by navies and merchant shipping worldwide but there is little to match the demanding constraints on space and ventilation for a superyacht bridge which still meet the owner’s requirements for slick appearance.

There are several elements to innovation on the bridge. The first will centre around gathering data to analyse system performance and better plan servicing and maintenance of the bridge components. 

Digital updates for the electronic chart display are already happening but there is a need to improve the procedure for getting the data into the front of the bridge navigation system. Rather than rely on memory sticks for transfer, there should be an independently hosted back-of-bridge system with a secure connection to the front-of-bridge. 

The data-on-demand model is quickly being replaced by real-time monitoring of vessel systems and customers are already exploring the benefits of a richer data stream that can enhance the safety and efficiency of bridge operations. 

We also employ the same secure data stream to deploy software updates and patches directly into the bridge system whether the vessel is alongside or on voyage. That data can also be used to deliver more data from shore, such as weather updates, safe routing or berth availability.

These changes are already taking place but we think that customers, rather than vendors, should decide how and at what speed such tools – as well as more advanced ones - should be applied.

This new era requires that the supplier changes too; building a new skills base with people experienced in connectivity and data, so that the outcome is an improvement and not a further complication to an already complex business.

We are also aware that with greater connectivity and increased data transfer comes an increased security risk, which must be managed. Our approach is to build a cyber infrastructure which is capable of maintaining more than just an ‘air gap’ between the ship’s network and the front-of-bridge navigation system, to provide a robust physical component of a layered cyber security strategy.

This approach to innovation could be viewed as small steps in the right direction but it is critical that the strategy actually provides tangible results, not innovations in search of a business model. By building a platform that can be used to deliver services as well as systems we will be able to make giant leaps too. 

It also reflects the fact that - whenever possible - our service engineers are present on the boat; we see how customers use our products and hear first-hand about the improvements and enhancements they want to see. 

That gives us a unique perspective on how to create new services that meet these changing needs. History and heritage are not enough to protect any company from the challenges of digitalisation, but change need not be a threat to survival. Instead, it enables much closer dialogue on how we can support customer operations and deliver real digital value, rather than create disruption for its own sake.

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