The digital countdown has started
Digital transformation is creating new winners and losers. The Mittelstand 4.0-Kompetenzzentrum Bremen provides start-up assistance and supports maritime small and medium-sized enterprises in their digitalisation strategies.
Digitalisation is transforming entire economic sectors, challenging traditional business models, forcing old actors out and bringing new ones into play. The process of digital transformation along the entire value chain is also picking up speed in the maritime economy. Blockchain, artificial intelligence and robotics are some of the buzzwords of the hour – even if not everyone understands exactly how they work or what their impacts will be.
Given these circumstances, the federally funded Mittelstand 4.0-Kompetenzzentrum Bremen – or Bremen Competence Centre for Small and Medium- sized Enterprises 4.0 – has set itself the task of supporting mainly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in boosting their digital proficiency. In terms of content, the Bremen centre views the maritime industry, including port transhipment, as one of its main areas of focus. “We see a great deal of potential in the maritime industry,” emphasises Dr Pierre Taner Kirisci, engineer, project coordinator and branch manager of the centre.
But with this great potential come demanding challenges. “Some companies don’t even know whether they need digital solutions at all, let alone which ones,” Kirisci notes. For them, he continues, the first issue is recognising that they have a need at all. “Then, in the next step, we help them identify potential technologies and come up with a concept.”
In any case, the starting conditions for the maritime economy could be better. “There are still many manual and verbal processes in the industry that lead to media discontinuities,” Kirisci says with astonishment. “Companies are now asking us how they can digitalise and automate these processes.” Furthermore, integrating different data sets also poses great challenges to many companies.
In addition to offering free seminars, innovation workshops and training courses, Bremen’s digitalisation offensive counts networking as an important component. “Companies that have reached a high level of digitalisation with the help of our centre or that were already digital experts can serve as digital ambassadors for us and pass on their knowledge to other SMEs,” reports the project coordinator.
The collaboration between the Bremen competence centre and the Maritime Cluster Northern Germany (MCN) was launched in April 2018 and has become very close. Around 40 MCN members from all five federal states in northern Germany have expressed their interest in using the services of the Bremen centre going forwards. “The services offered by the Bremen competence centre preciselym correspond with the needs of many MCN members,” says Andreas Born, head of the MCN regionalm office in Bremen, which serves as the interface form all interested MCN members inm northern Germany. “I know from numerous conversations that concretesupport services are sought at both the management and employee level.” Some research-& -development-focused MCN members also engage with the competence centre as project partners, using their expertise to assist SMEs.
Some maritime companies only need to digitally improve their existing business models. Others require dramatic changes, such as bringing entirely new services and products into the company. They are faced with exciting questions – that the Bremen competence centre helps them answer – such as: How will 3D printing impact industrial production and global commodity flows? Will ocean going vessels sail autonomously and unmanned in the future? Will robots replace workers in shipyards? Can digitalisation make the shipping industry safer? And what role will artificial intelligence play? As far as Kirisci is concerned, the key question in all of this is likely to be: How will people and technology interact with each other more efficiently?