The idea of crewless ships was once considered sheer science fiction. Then, in 2017, PwC reported that at least two out of 10 Norwegian and Greek shipping decision-makers thought it certain or at least probable that ships would be controlled from land in the foreseeable future. And in 2022, the world’s first fully autonomous ship completed its maiden voyage.

This shifting mindset signifies the radical yet realistic avenues unfolding for Shipping and Logistics (S&L) companies. The digitalization of physical systems and assets is spurring an exciting age of possibilities. A pioneering attitude is crucial, given the unprecedented challenges confronting the lifeline of global commerce – while seaborne trade is rising, there are major concerns over the aging global fleet.

This is, however, just the tip of the iceberg. With many valuable physical assets and associated systems nearing obsolescence, the S&L industry must embrace digitalization to amplify profits and address changing consumer behaviors, regulatory mandates and macro-economic pressures.

The Revolutionary Scope of Digitalizing Physical Assets

The key to unlocking the next level of success lies in the strategic adoption of transformative technologies that maximize the potential of physical assets. In other words, S&L firms must adopt agile and holistic digitalization suites.

These suites leverage technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud integration, analytics and much more to automate processes, provide integrated visibility and enhance cybersecurity.

Such transformation brings significant business advantage by fostering innovation and driving competitive advantage in the industry. Consider some of these benefits that aid in attracting new customers, retaining existing ones and enhancing compliance and risk mitigation.

  • Real-time information and insights: The ability to gather, analyze and interpret heaps of information from physical assets empowers businesses to make smarter decisions. By harnessing real-time data from shipping containers, trucks and vessels, logistics companies can optimize routes, reduce transit times and minimize fuel consumption.

    Deploying AI, ML and IoT-powered sensors allows for proactive maintenance while cutting costs. McKinsey research reveals that early adopters of AI-led supply chain management solutions witnessed improved inventory costs of 35 percent and logistics costs of 15 percent. This approach not only increases the lifespan of assets but also maximizes their productivity and minimizes repair costs.

  • Enhanced safety: Robotics can enhance the safety and security of the workforce by minimizing human intervention. Drones, for instance, are becoming popular in warehousing for inventory monitoring and, beyond warehouse confines, for yard management. This capability is particularly useful in hazardous environments. Additionally, by integrating predictive analytics, data from vital assets – like vessels – can be used to send timely alerts, minimizing accidents, injuries and loss of valuable cargo.

  • Heightened productivity: Modern robotic systems are faster and more accurate at various jobs such as sorting, picking and packing. Mundane tasks such as moving cases and pallets can be assigned to Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs), freeing human resources for more important functions. Such technologies raise productivity and lower personnel expenses and the possibility of mistakes. To improve workflow and boost throughput, major logistics businesses like Amazon and DHL have already included robotics in their warehousing operations.

Exploring Uncharted Territory: The Role of Strategic Partnerships

While the benefits of digitalization are clear, the great sweep of technological and infrastructural changes that need to be implemented can overwhelm organizations. To bridge this gap, industry players must foster collaborations with specialists who have a proven track record in domain and digital transformation.

Partnering with experts can secure insightful, data-driven decision-making that considers both immediate and long-term requirements. The right partner also takes a collaborative, skin-in-the-game approach to providing strategic benefits on various fronts, including cloud architecture, advisory services, business security and competition analysis, to name a few. Partners can also leverage each other’s infrastructure, capabilities and domain expertise to supplement efforts, navigate challenges and achieve mutual growth.

While considerable progress has been made in digitizing data and processes, the automation of physical assets is an area that holds vast, untapped potential. Innovations such as autonomous vessels, drones and robotics have already shown promise in enhancing warehouse operations and last-mile delivery. As technology advances and regulations evolve, strong partnerships can help businesses stay agile and open to embracing these automation opportunities.

Talk to our experts to know more about the advantages of collaboration in the journey to digital transformation of physical assets in shipping and logistics.

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