Going beyond steel

We interviewed Mika Ruokonen, Vice President at Futurice, about the digitalization of the maritime industry. He doesn’t see any sudden transformations on the horizon, but the changes that are already in motion will most likely continue, the biggest taking place in the software and service business. That’s where most of the work will need to be done, too. 



“An increasing share of the value for maritime companies will be generated automation as well as autonomous equipment in ships and ports, and in the service business. Staying in the game when it becomes about software platforms and new services, not just ships and equipment, is a kind of Holy Grail for maritime players.”


Here are Mika’s thoughts on where the industry is going. 


From ships to services, building ecosystems together


A typical maritime company’s background is in engineering, with technologies that have been around for decades. The shift towards service business and a platform economy bring with them new customer-oriented approaches and commercial perspectives that demand a new kind of resilience. Coming up with five new ideas is easy – the trick is in surviving the commercial marathon of prototypes and concepts, market testing and eventually getting customers to buy the new products or services.


The new paradigm makes individuals with an entrepreneurial background highly valued as employees. They have prior experience with pushing new things to market, which is usually an uphill climb. There’s also a growing groundswell of startups in the maritime industry, which are as good an option for someone interested in working in the field as the big companies. 


It’s important that both big and small companies recognize that this is now an ecosystem game. A company can be the network orchestrator and in control of the process and partners; or choose to be one of the collaborating partners instead of a core company. The key question is: how can they best create value for their customers? Sometimes it’s better to let a competitor or partner take the lead.


Speed is of the essence


The software and service business is very different from what the maritime industry is used to – much faster and more customer-centric. A startup may have a firm grasp of the new business landscape written in its DNA, but for bigger, more established maritime companies there’s lots to come to grips with. Experience and existing networks as well as relationships will, for a time, buffer bigger players against sudden disruptions, but there’s a lot of business potential in new models and methods for them, too.


Both mindset and culture need to change on all levels of business – and it needs to happen fast. Technology develops rapidly, and the needs of customers evolve with their increasing knowledge. The future of companies in the maritime industry just may depend on how fast they can adapt.


The changes in the business present an opportunity to make the maritime industry more attractive to prospective employees. Some may see the field as old-fashioned and even conservative, relying primarily on traditional technologies, but right now it offers an opportunity to work on interesting and challenging projects in areas ranging from automation to data science. The maritime industry of the future is not just about bending steel to its will – it’s also about cutting-edge tech. The cultural changes that the changing business landscape necessitates will help individual maritime companies become more diverse and attractive as employers.


One of the major factors that attract people to the field is the international nature of the work and the companies that work in the industry. It’s also economically secure, with a promising future. And there’s a massive potential for societal impact. If the industry manages to solve problems related to energy efficiency in the transportation of people and goods, it will make a real difference for the future.


Intelligent Maritime is one of the main program themes in SHIFT 2019 along with Circular Economy, Artificial Intelligence and Deep Tech. Read more about the Maritime program here!