Helsinki is sometimes called the daughter of the Baltic Sea. Although the city practically grows out of the sea and has always been a center of busy marine activity, this activity has not been regarded as a flagship industry. This is about to change, as the city now aims to form a thriving smart marine technology cluster.
The days of manually operated marine traffic are over. Marine traffic has, however, been slower to adapt smart ICT solutions than other forms of traffic and transportation.
– There are many opportunities that are yet to be seized in marine traffic. Information technology can for example enable considerable savings in fuel and costs and help streamline vessel maintenance and repairs, says Project Manager Ulla Tapaninen from the City of Helsinki.
Tapaninen is in charge of the city’s new smart marine technology project called MERIT. Its goal is to bring together smart marine technology companies in the Helsinki area and to form a successful cluster around them. The companies range from traditional marine industry—machine manufacturers, shipyards and shipping companies—to ICT companies offering smart solutions for example for ice and weather monitoring, sensoring, usability and navigation.
– Marine industry is a considerable employer in Helsinki. We have a major shipyard, lots of industrial subcontractors, software developers, engineering offices and shipping headquarters here. We just haven’t given this industry the attention that it deserves. Now we are really investing in smart marine technology, and hopefully it will propel the entire marine industry to new success, Tapaninen says.
Potential partners within close proximity
One of the companies participating in the MERIT project is Helsinki-based Ixonos, a company that develops Internet, cloud and mobile services. Business Development Director Mikko Patrakka says that the marine industry offers ICT companies vast business potential, for example in areas like fleet management and ship hardware management.
– Helsinki has such a strong marine industry that it’s natural for us to seek partnerships in it. We want to develop solutions that combine information from different sources and benefit the end user, whether it’s a crewmember, a supplier service team, a shipping company employee or a cruise passenger looking for a new digital experience.
Digitalization is an important driver behind the development of smart marine technology.
– Every business sector and industry will go through digitalization—if not now, soon. It will bring changes to existing business models and offer new opportunities. Ship equipment maintenance, for instance, is often done at fixed intervals or once equipment fails to operate. Remote asset management allows land-based service teams to assess the situation before extra costs occur. Furthermore, sharing vessel asset information in a cloud service enables effective fleet management of even very small freight and passenger fleets, says Patrakka.
Rapid development and new opportunities
According to Ulla Tapaninen, there are two main reasons why smart marine technology is developing exceptionally fast at the moment. One is the fact that fuel prices have risen in the long term, and marine transportation will have to find new ways to compete, for example with high-quality logistics. The other reason can be found in tightening environmental regulation and new standards.
– The Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Finland are global forerunners in safety and environmental risk management. Finland is in a good position to export top expertise in icebreaking and risk management for example to Arctic marine projects, says Tapaninen.
A heritage of shipbuilders and Nokia
Finland’s history provides an excellent basis for developing smart marine technology.
– We have built ships for centuries. A considerable part of the world’s cruise ships and icebreakers have been built in Finland. Our shipyard industry has recently gone through structural changes that have encouraged it to build new subcontracting networks, and it is well connected to the global market. Furthermore, Nokia left us a legacy of top-notch information technology know-how. If we manage to combine all this, we will have a winning recipe, not just for a single city or a few individual companies but for the entire country, Tapaninen says.
That is why the MERIT project brings together companies and helps them to find client contacts and funding for pilot projects. It also aims to create university programs that provide education in the field of smart marine technology. By the time the project ends in 2016, the new smart marine technology business cluster will hopefully be up and running.
– Smart marine technology business is largely run in hot spots around the world, and the Helsinki region has the experience and expertise to be one of these hot spots. Strong clusters that combine volume, know-how and resources will succeed in the global market, says Mikko Patrakka.