More than 10 billion tons of goods are transported around the globe by sea every year – and that figure is growing all the time. From televisions and bicycles to bananas and cans of cola, the chances are that your latest purchase has travelled on a ship for much of its journey.
But as you sit peeling a banana in front of your new TV, spare a thought for the complex supply chain behind the scenes that has made it possible.
We take it for granted that we can go shopping and buy what we want, when we want – and the internet is full of "next-day delivery" promises so we don't have to wait any more than a few hours. No wonder it's easy to forget just how much needs to happen to deliver on that promise.
Time really is money when it comes to the global maritime supply chain. Shipping schedules need to be co-ordinated for maximum efficiency, port services have to swing into action at exactly the right moment and trucks need to be ready for the final leg of the cargo's journey. There's no margin for error.
Traditionally this intricate operation would have required a mountain of paperwork – and coping with last-minute changes would have been a challenge. But the digital age promises a transformation.
On the horizon is a future of autonomous ships controlled by satellite, with location analytics alerting ports in advance of their arrival so that autonomous trucks and cranes can get into position. If a ship is emitting dirty fuel, a geofence will be put in place to protect the health of people living near the port – and, in fact, port design will probably change to have loading bays further out, away from cities, with trucks routed away from city centres to further reduce the effects of pollution.
But key to this vision of the future is making sense of the vast quantities of data that will be generated by IoT sensors on everything from ships and cranes – to monitor things like position and condition – to individual cargo containers where they can keep an eye on temperature and humidity, for example, if the goods are perishable.
Our state-of-the-art spatial big data platform is able to combine factors such as weather reports, vessel movements and port delays to maximise the efficiency of cargo operations. It can compare historical and current data to find anomalies, correlations or patterns – and predict maritime and port capacity at the speed of thought.
By creating and analysing one central data store, the platform makes it possible to innovate from a position of strength – building on the firm foundations of a deep understanding of the complex maritime supply chain. And that could deliver a better future for the whole planet.