Maritime Informatics

Last updated on May 26th, 2021 at 08:53 am

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Over the last few years, as a result of our involvement in the shipping industry and in several European Union projects to improve the safety, efficiency, and the sustainability of shipping, the editors of this book have been developing the idea of Maritime Informatics as a specific thematic topic. We recognized that there are characteristics of the Maritime sector that require a specific approach to its digital transformation through information systems. Before we discuss these characteristics and their implications, we will first define Maritime Informatics and then go on to present our perspective on its development and application.

Maritime Informatics is the application of information systems to increasing the efficiency, safety,
and ecological sustainability of the world’s shipping industry.

Maritime Informatics is an applied science. Developed by data scientists to meet the needs of
practice and applied by practitioners and data scientists cooperatively.

Shipping, the most efficient way of transporting goods across the globe, handles about 90% of the world’s trade. It enables regions and countries to exploit their comparative advantage, and thus improves the lot of many citizens. Trade facilitated by shipping and application of Ricardo’s comparative advantage principle have created a global economy. The last few years, however, have demonstrated its fragility. Trade wars have flared, and the Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated the brittleness of a highly interconnected society. As we have learned, a digital society can be quite agile in some regards, such as the use of video conferencing and webinars for meetings, but we still rely on people performing physical actions, such as stocking supermarket shelves, for many tasks. As a result, it is likely that robots will take on many critical physical operations to increase societal resilience, and also there could be localisation of some operations that currently take advantage of labour arbitrage. The localisation possibilities of robots and such things as 3D printing will have an impact on shipping volumes.

The sea has fascinated people for centuries. It has long been a source of transport, food, and entertainment.  However, with rising ocean temperatures, sea level increases, and massive plastic waste in the ocean, we are endangering a major source of food and seaside cities will have to spend billions on adjusting to more frequent flooding. At the same time, aquaculture and windfarms are adding to our dependency on the seas. All these developments support the case for Maritime Informatics. We need to increase the quality of maritime decision-making to improve its efficiency, so we do more with less, sustainability, by minimising the environmental impact, and safety, thereby protecting human lives and the environment.

Maritime informatics takes a holistic approach to shipping. Consequently, information requirements are strongly influenced by the self-organising nature of the shipping industry and the spatial-temporal data needed to manage a voyage and a port visit. Digital data streams are the fulcrum of coordination, because the many actors involved in a voyage and a port visit must share data in real-time to organise the many associated activities. Strong voices in the shipping industry are also pushing for a digital transformation that will result in higher levels of transparency, predictability, and visibility of all transport operations connected with shipping. There is a drive for enhanced situational awareness across the full spectrum of activities in the movement of goods from origin to destination.

Because of the high level of actor autonomy in this competitive industry, those who own and generate data want complete control over when they grant data access to others. Data owners tend only to authorise sharing of data when it is in their self-interest.

Much of the knowledge and practices for developing information systems is based upon building systems for internal use by an enterprise’s employees. Data access authorisation is stable. For example, an employee’s data access rights might persist for years. Whereas, in shipping, authority to access particular data will likely be limited to a port visit or a portion of a visit. Thus, you have to set aside notions of building centralised databases and focus on digital data streams whose flow and attributes could be precisely managed.

The automatic identification system (AIS) is the seed innovation for Maritime Informatics. It was the first widespread adoption of digital data stream technology within the shipping industry, and in this case the stream is openly accessible to those with a receiver. If the industry is to advance its digital transformation and for Maritime Informatics to bloom, it needs more standardised digital data streams to create shared information systems, such as a common situation awareness, that improve coordination and raise the capital productivity of transportation fleets and hubs. The industry is on the way to leaving behind non-standard data sharing using a variety of different media, from voice to fax to email, to settle upon standardised digital data exchange across the communication networks; something that creates the foundation for the next era of shipping.

An early and very beneficial digital innovation for the shipping industry was the Morse code and associated telegraphy equipment. Invented around 1837, the Morse code was the first international digital standard. 
Since the 1950s when General Electric (GE) purchased the first business computer, there has been a steady conversion of systems from analogue to digital. An early label was automated data processing (ADP) later followed by management information systems (MIS), and more recently a variety of terms, such as digitisation, digitalisation, and digital transformation, have been applied. Over this period, the essential goal of converting analogue to digital to lower the cost of business and improve customer service has not changed. It seems, however, that talking about a digital “something” currently gets managers more engaged than “ADP” or “MIS”.

The analogue to digital conversion has been the major force for productivity improvement for over half a century, and every business needs to stay on this track to remain competitive. Thus, in this book we have not been too concerned whether authors choose to use the words digitisation, digitalisation, or digital transformation. While there are pundits who write about the difference between these three terms, they do not always agree on their definitions. Consequently, people confuse them, and authors sometimes use them interchangeably. We do not think the difference matters that much. What matters is that businesses continue to use advances in information technology and network connectivity to transform business processes to raise efficiency and create a sustainable world. Whether you describe your goal as digitising, digitalising, or a digital transformation will unlikely make too much difference to the outcome.

In setting the scope for this book, we excluded the data communication layer. Also, while we include data exchange standards, we do not delve into their structure and features. We do not intend to imply that secure standardised data exchange is not important. Indeed, it is the foundation on which Maritime Informatics is built. We want, however, to focus attention on the processing of communicated data. 

The first objective of Maritime Informatics is to promote standardised digital data sharing to achieve high levels of coordination and resource utilisation. The ultimate goal is to use the data that accumulates through data sharing to develop and implement new types of shipping analytics, which will advance operational performance and strategic planning to further raise the capital productivity of the shipping industry. Maritime Informatics is about enabling understanding, predicting, advising, and improving maritime activity by digital means.

This work is the product of many minds across practice, academia, and the world. The contributors are from 20 countries; they include 46 from industy or government and 34 from universities or research institutes. With so many contributors, there is inevitably some repetition of key ideas and critical facts. As we expect that some might read only a few chapters, we decided it would be appropriate to leave some repetition in place to ensure that each chapter has the necessary context to meet its goals and does not require a linear reading of all prior chapters.

The purpose of this book is to give you insights into the current status and future directions of Maritime Informatics. We provide charts for you to successfully navigate your digital transformation through a waterway of connected ships, ports, and cargoes. Our vision is that Maritime Informatics will help you reach higher levels of operational performance and sounder strategic visions so that you reap the full benefits of digital transformation of the industry and your organisation in particular.[1]

About the editors

Dr Mikael Lind is Associate Professor and Senior Strategic Research Advisor at Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE). He has initiated and headed a substantial part of several open innovation initiatives related to ICT for sustainable transports of people and goods. He is also part time at the Chalmers University of technology (M2), Sweden, exploring the opportunity of maritime informatics as an applied research field. Lind also serves as an expert for World Economic Forum, Europe’s Digital Transport Logistic Forum (DTLF), and UN/CEFACT. He has been the lead author of more than 30 concepts notes associated to maritime informatics and with over 8 500 LinkedIn connections and well published in maritime trade press has become recognized thought leader in Maritime Informatics. He is based in Gothenburg, a major Scandinavia shipping centre with a number of companies already offering information services to the maritime sector. Lind and Watson have been mini-track chairs for Maritime Informatics at the major regional IS conferences in Europe and the Americas for several years.

Dr Michalis P. Michaelides is an Assistant Professor with the Department of Electrical Engineering, Computer Engineering and Informatics at the Cyprus University of Technology. Michalis research interests include communication systems, wireless sensor networks, event detection and localization, fault detection and diagnosis, fault tolerance, collaborative signal and information processing, computational intelligence with applications to environmental monitoring, intelligent systems and maritime informatics. Michalis has been involved as a principal investigator in many research projects, both local and European, including the Sea Traffic Management Validation (EU, 2016-2019) and STEAM (RPF, INTEGRATED/0916/0063, 2019-2021). In 2014, he received the Elsevier Building and Environment Journal Best Paper Award.

Robert Ward was the Secretary-General of the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) until his retirement in late 2017. Prior to that he was the Deputy Hydrographer of Australia. For more than 20 years he represented Australia and subsequently the IHO at the highest international levels and has played an influential role in the development and implementation of global digital data exchange standards for nautical charting services that now also underpin the IMO’s e-Navigation concept of a maritime digital information environment.

Dr Richard T. Watson is a Regents Professor and the J. Rex Fuqua Distinguished Chair for Internet Strategy in the Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia. He is a former President of the Association for Information Systems (AIS). In 2011, he received the AIS’s LEO award, which is given for exceptional lifetime achievement in Information Systems. He has written books on Data Management; Electronic Commerce, Internet Strategy, Energy Informatics; and Capital, Systems, and Objects and published nearly 200 journal articles, including articles in the major IS journals and practitioner journals such as Harvard Business Review and California Management Review. He was educated at the University of Western Australia (BSc, Dip. Comp), Monash University (MBA), and the University of Minnesota (PhD).

[1] To keep current on developments in Maritime Informatics, see