Maritime executives in the 2020’s are frequently voicing the lament: “Data, data everywhere- but not a byte to link.” Like the proverbial sailors of old adrift in a vast ocean, managers these days are crying out for an easy way to fuse together reams and reams of actionable vessel data that can inform business decisions in the moment (and longer term). Ali Riaz, the CEO of New York-based OrbitMI, put it this way: “You end up sewing things together. I think the maritime industry rightfully is tired of it and there needs to be something different, something new that catapults them from being an industry that's back in the class to front of the class.”
The incentives for moving to the front of the class are particularly high for tanker and bulker operators with tonnage trading in the spot market. The competing pressures to optimise vessel performance and maximise profit while navigating an increasingly complex web of regulatory requirements is an impossible task without technological solutions that are simple, effective, flexible and affordable. Providing those solutions is what motivates Riaz.
Orbit is a vessel performance and maritime intelligence platform that collects and analyzes data to help owners and operators manage fleets more efficiently, profitably and sustainably. The software-as-a-service company, which is based in New York, says its solution can increase productivity by as much as 60% with an annual ROI of roughly $12m to $16m. Unlike many competing solutions, its modular architecture is flexible, which means new functionality can be added with relative ease.
His company’s product is Orbit, which bills itself as an integrated suite of cloud-hosted maritime business solutions. What began as a proprietary solution for Swedish tanker owner Stena Bulk is now being offered to other operators.
Gone are the days of technology projects involving extensive investments in hardware and bespoke software, which, given the many high-profile failures in recent years, have made maritime companies wary of deploying information management solutions. With the software as a service (SaaS) model, the capabilities are available instantly, enabling personnel in far-flung offices (and aboard vessels) to have immediate access to relevant data. But that is only the beginning. With the complete data view, users can easily and readily relate disparate data sets from one part of the company to another.
Shipping executives, like Peter Bjorkborg, manager of sustainability and transformation at Stena Bulk, agree with Riaz’s approach. Bjorkborg explains: “We have changed our mindset…we can use data to improve our efficiency and our revenue, every day of the week.” On the topic of bunker procurement and chartering, he says: “The more data we have added, the more benefits we have found.”
His colleague, general manager of commercial operations Therese Jallbrink, adds that, from the perspective of a pool manager, “You are really interested in knowing that information that affects the pool points is accurate. We use Orbit for that.”
Stena Bulk CEO Erik Hanell highlights the value of SaaS solutions for his entire organisation, saying: “It allows us to operate more efficiently, as we based our actions on collected accurate information.”
Data gathering capabilities span a wide range of voyage planning functions-such as distance tables, AIS positions, and real-time fuel consumption and speed readings-with the ability to configure customised alerts and notifications for both mariners and shoreside staff on their computers or mobile phones.
Built-in functionality includes audit trails, which means reviews can be conducted on-demand anywhere, anytime. The layered data structure enables a “macro” view of an entire fleet, or a group of vessels, with the ability to easily toggle to a “micro” view of a single voyage.
While many solutions that purport to exploit the power of “big data” by making the management of internal processes more efficient, Orbit is unique in that it has the potential to enhance outward facing commercial activities, such as chartering, as well. Jallbrink says: “It’s not only our own ships that we can see in Orbit, but also those of the competitors.” Citing the thousands of tankers and gas carriers tied into Orbit via AIS, she continues: “That gives us a better position to see our competition for one cargo.”
It’s not only our own ships that we can see in Orbit, but also those of the competitors. That gives us a better position to see our competition for one cargo.
Therese Jallbrink, Stena Bulk
With Orbit, information from ships, systems, offices and staff can be gathered, assimilated and shared with other business partners. As Jallbrink suggests, these include voyage calculations that aid the evaluation of commercial opportunities in real-time. Customers have also used this functionality to make quick comparisons of hires against those computed using inputs from Worldscale or from forward freight markets. Artificial intelligence enables this type of analysis and other routine calculations to be streamlined over time.
Orbit also facilitates sustainability-but goes well beyond fuel efficiency and optimisation. It’s no coincidence that Stena Bulk, in particular, has taken a leadership role in the exploration of new fuels- with the online platform being integral to these efforts. Following the successful trial of biofuels on one of its MR product tankers, customers now have the option of using low-carbon fuels. Bjorkborg explains that: “We always have live and accurate data at hand so we can monitor our ships more closely, and also act on deviations faster.”
Orbit offers pre-approved formats that interface directly with IMO DCS, EU MRV and Lloyds IMO DCS Data Verification Evidence Pack, as well as SIRE questionnaires. As calls for transparency grow louder, Orbit’s ability to generate emissions and EEOI ‘scorecards’ for each voyage that can be readily shared with customers and other stakeholders takes on increasing importance. Thanks to these capabilities, and others, Bjorkborg notes that Stena Bulk has been able to maximise performance and utilisation across its entire fleet, adding that: “…every ton of saved bunkers is a big win for us- and for the environment.” In terms of ROI, reduced bunker consumption means reduced emissions- and greater voyage margins.
“Stena Bulk had a great insight in building OrbitMI to begin with,” Riaz says. “They had an even greater insight in sharing it with the rest of the world.”
He concludes: “The industry is getting thirsty for collaborative technologies that bring a vibrant, single pane of glass view of their operations. What is even more critical is bringing key data points together to make informed real-time decisions. Orbit can help you reach that. We look forward to adding new clients and partners this year.”