Victory at sea

For an expanding group of maritime firms, cloud computing powers competitive advantage

Greg Trauthwein
6 December 2017

4 min read

As the maritime industry embraces digital transformation, major players are increasingly focused on one key enabler: the cloud. Compass talked to maritime industry players large and small about why cloud is critical to their digital evolution, and how they are taking advantage of its capabilities to transform their business.

From a two-man naval architecture business in the South Pacific to an 18,000 employee global leader in advanced technologies and power solutions for the marine and energy markets, maritime industry organizations of every size are increasingly looking to cloud computing for transformative capabilities.  

According to James Espino, president of Gnostech Inc. – experts in cybersecurity, software development and Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems engineering for defense and maritime markets – cloud-based solutions allow the maritime industry to implement state-of-the-market technology solutions while being able to better predict their operational expenses and eliminate worry about the capital expenses needed to maintain and manage a complex IT infrastructure.

“Rather than expend resources on maintaining an IT infrastructure, resources can be focused on how technology can be used to increase an organization’s ability to respond to customer needs more quickly,” Espino said. “For example, rather than invest in a physical IT infrastructure, organizations can focus on implementing data analytics and machine learning tools to enhance or implement a condition-based maintenance program to ensure core systems do not shut down at inopportune moments.”


Martin Fischer, a naval architect specialized in hydrodynamics and shape optimization, leads a company of two located on the small island nation of New Caledonia. From this remote locale 750 miles (1,210 km) east of Australia, Fischer seamlessly collaborates on high-level sailboat racing projects, from private high-performance yachts to America’s Cup entries – a business model made possible via the cloud.

“We started using cloud computing about four years ago,” Fischer said. “During the Groupama Team France America’s Cup (project), I was collaborating with people located in France, Italy, Argentina, New Caledonia, Belgium and Spain. Currently, I am working on three different projects with people spread over several countries.”

The Wärtsilä 46 medium-speed marine diesel engine dwarfs a worker. Wärtsilä solutions are sold into vessels operating across the world’s oceans, and power plants in every continent. Being able to develop on the cloud gives Wärtsilä holistic view of their customers’ assets, work with a wide range of partners and create industry-wide value propositions. (Image © Wärtsilä)

These long-distance collaborations through the cloud include creating 3D geometry, structural analyses, computational fluid dynamics, velocity prediction programs and dynamic simulations. This represents massive amounts of data that, if exchanged manually, would cost days or weeks in time, leaving various partners out of step with real-time project developments.

“The interaction between 3D geometry and structural analyses has become much easier and more efficient since we have been using our design and simulation software on the cloud. That’s because all you need to access the 3D models is a password and a web browser.”

On the other end of the spectrum is Wärtsilä, a leading smart technology company with complete lifecycle solutions for the marine and energy markets, which generates €4.8 billion ($5.68 billion) in annual revenue across 200 locations in 70 countries.

“Digital for us is part of our business DNA,” said Marco Ryan, chief digital officer, Wärtsilä. “The capabilities and scale offered by modern cloud vendors and platforms offer a richness of solutions, both in traditional IT and in product-focused areas, affording a technological reach that would be impossible for us to achieve via any other means. We have a proactive approach to the cloud, and today most of our capacity is in the cloud in some form.”

Leveraging the collaborative power of the cloud allows New Calendonia-based naval architect Martin Fischer to seamlessly work with partners around the world on high-level sailboat racing projects, from private high-performance yachts to America’s Cup entries. (Image © Martin Fischer)

That capacity also gives Wärtsilä the means to serve its clients’ vessels anywhere, even when they are far removed from any port.

“Wärtsilä solutions are sold into vessels operating across the world’s oceans, and power plants in every continent. Being able to develop on a cloud fabric allows us to take a holistic view of our customers’ assets, work with a wide range of partners and really create industry-wide value propositions,” said Toby White, vice president of digital engineering, Wärtsilä.

Another benefit? Enabling new processes in manufacturing.

“On the production side, there is still a lot to do,” Fischer said. “For example, composites are still assembled manually by experienced boat builders and composite specialists. But to improve quality and reproducibility of these complex structures, robotics will take over the job. A fully computerized approach is inevitable for these new production methods. A fully cloud-based approach will avoid the manual exchange of information, eliminating a major error source.”


Rather than wait to be disrupted, other players are leveraging cloud computing to create disruptive offers of their own.

“All industries have the potential to be threatened by digitalization, either in terms of new entrants, new channels or new products,” said Juha Rokka, vice president engineering, Ship Intelligence, at Rolls-Royce Marine. The 5,000 employees of the Ship Intelligence business unit, therefore, are focused on developing cloud-based solutions for remote and autonomous ships, including artificial intelligence and machine-learning technologies.


Cybersecurity is a top agenda item for most corporations, but corporate leaders should not let those concerns become an excuse for cloud complacency.

“Good cloud service providers can help reduce an organization’s cyber risk exposure,” said Espino. Maritime industry leaders need to view cybersecurity as a risk-based decision and deciding to implement a cloud solution and selecting a cloud service provider should be viewed no differently.

“One risk that a reputable cloud service provider can help mitigate is an organization’s cyber exposure due to obsolesce and poorly maintained hardware and software,” Espino said. “Cloud service providers do not eliminate an organization’s need to have IT and cybersecurity staff, but it can facilitate an environment where these teams can support the organization’s core functions and enhance the customer experience.”



Wärtsilä’s Marco Ryan is even more blunt: “The risk of not adopting an ecosystem mind-set, is that your products and solutions are only available in discrete areas of the ecosystem. As new products and services are created through the sharing of data and interaction of components across the ecosystem, the worst case is that your market access and even your margins are at the mercy of people operating on an entirely different scale. That level of disruption will cause tremendous financial challenges and could even be terminal.”

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