ABS: Sharpening its Global View

Maritime Activity Reports, Inc.

May 23, 2016

  • (Photo: ABS)
  • “Our goal is to be recognized as having the best classifications services; to be a recognized as a technology leader, and a trusted advisor.” - Kirsi Tikka, Ph.D., Executive Vice President – Global Marine (Photo: ABS)
  • “We have a ‘Future Class initiative’ (trademarked) and the future is data centric.” - Howard Fireman, SVP and CTO, & President of ABS’ Nautical Systems (Photo: ABS)
  • (Photo: ABS) (Photo: ABS)
  • “Our goal is to be recognized as having the best classifications services; to be a recognized as a technology leader, and a trusted advisor.” - Kirsi Tikka, Ph.D., Executive Vice President – Global Marine (Photo: ABS) “Our goal is to be recognized as having the best classifications services; to be a recognized as a technology leader, and a trusted advisor.” - Kirsi Tikka, Ph.D., Executive Vice President – Global Marine (Photo: ABS)
  • “We have a ‘Future Class initiative’ (trademarked) and the future is data centric.” - Howard Fireman, SVP and CTO, & President of ABS’ Nautical Systems (Photo: ABS) “We have a ‘Future Class initiative’ (trademarked) and the future is data centric.” - Howard Fireman, SVP and CTO, & President of ABS’ Nautical Systems (Photo: ABS)
The American Bureau of Shipping (ABS), already one of the world’s well-regarded classification societies, recently restructured its ranks to meet the perpetually evolving needs of its customers. Kirsi Tikka, the global head of marine, and Howard Fireman, CTO, explain.
 
While the business of ship classification is ever-evolving, it could be argued that today is a watershed of sorts in terms of this businesses evolution. Increasing amounts of data and data analytics are rapidly changing the operational profiles of ships at sea, and while the benefits are many, so too are the dangers, as the growing threat of cyber security comes to the fore. 
 
In the middle of it all is classification, which is increasingly relied upon to be at the vanguard of technological council and insight, a valuable ear and invaluable partner in this historic progression. At the same time, class must integrate latest technologies and best practices in its own operations to consistently ensure that it itself is keeping one step ahead of the technological curve.
 
ABS is in the midst of a transition to meet and exceed these growing needs. “We established the new organization and it is a global organization to compliment our four geographic divisions,” said Kirsi Tikka, Ph.D., Executive Vice President – Global Marine. “These divisions have served us very well as we have very good local client contacts. We felt we needed to improve further, with a global view of the industry, and global marine was established to align our marine strategy with the global industry, and to provide additional client support in addition to the local client support supplied by the divisions. Also, to have a faster response to market trends and needs.” 
 
Tikka admits that the ‘global view’ looks a bit weak today. “The markets are depressed, particularly on the dry bulk side, while the offshore industry and the liners have not been doing great either. (On the flip side) the tanker market has had a good run, but overall it is a fairly somber picture at the moment.
 
One thing that we try to do is assist them (ship owners) to deal with all of the complex regulations that we have in place, when the markets are not so good they might not invest as much, so ABS works with them to know the latest requirements and their needed actions and deadlines. We are partnering with the industry to help get them through this period. Our goal is to be recognized as having the best classifications services; to be recognized as a technology leader, and a trusted advisor to the industry.”
 
Big Data Comes of Age
Howard Fireman, Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer; and President of ABS’ Nautical Systems, is leading the charge on the technology side of the classification equation, and he agrees that the recent slowdown is a good time to regroup, streamline and prepare for the future. “As Kirsi said, you prepare for the future during this market hiatus, and it is a good time for me to look a the global technology organization, and say ‘okay, in tandem with where we see we’re going with classification, and the fact that we’re going with more of a market sector face to our clients and the global industry, what changes should I make,’” said Fireman.
 
In his corner of ABS, Fireman leads a team that deals with cyber security issues and software, and another team that deals with data management and data analytics. He cannot emphasize enough the growing importance regarding data and cyber security, calling it the third big piece in the safety continuum after hull and machinery. But as complex as the data and cyber side of the fence becomes, the mission still is clear and simplistic: safety, particularly when it comes to impact on people.
 
Fireman explains that the security initiatives are growing rapidly, and safety checks are not simply limited to the equipment installation, noting that regular software updates across a broad spectrum of equipment each come with the potential to cause problems and conflicts with other software in the chain, or perhaps even open a security breach. “People really want to understand, with all of these different OEMs and vendors and software systems coming together, they really want to understand the failure modes,” said Fireman. “The failure modes that we’re worried about is of course the equipment, but also the potential impact on people.”
 
“People want to push updates to you all of the time, but do people really understand the risks that potentially come with each of these updates?” 
 
Safety and security on the cyber front demands vigilance and verification. Fireman noted one case where an owner conducted an audit of its electronic information flow, and despite assurances from one vendor that information was simply being pushed from the vendor to the owner, information was also flowing back to the OEM.
 
“The risks are there, and part of our job is understanding what those risks are, and if we put our notation we are backing up technically and saying that we understand the process that was used, the verification of the software, and of course the configuration management piece,” Fireman said. “It’s not just about the software load that you had at delivery, but what has happened throughout. That’s where you see the vulnerability.”
 
The Changing Face of Class
The very nature of class is changing too, as classification societies incorporate latest technologies to ensure that it collects and analyzes information as efficiently a possible. “The future of class: we’re going to conduct our existing class services differently, based on the technology change,” said Fireman. “We have a ‘Future Class initiative’ (trademarked) and the future is data centric.” 
 
He explains that as the world becomes more data centric some traditional roles and boundaries are getting a bit fuzzy as more information is available 24/7/365 regarding a ship’s performance and asset health. In particular, the plethora of new regulations regarding ships, energy efficiency and the environment is triggering a number of fundamental technology changes onboard ships. In addition to standard structural and mechanical asset integrity issues, you must through in the mix the growing area of cyber security and issues.
 
To this end, ABS is evaluating several new technologies that will enable it to do its job more efficiently in coming years. 
 
“Technology will enable us to do our job better,” said Tikka. “But the one difference that we as a class society need to keep in mind compared to organizations that use data to target certain markets or develop new products, when we use data, we use it to make safety decisions. It is a very different type of use, and it puts higher demands on the quality and reliability of the data.”
 
“It’s very important that I build the technology that support the business strategies” Fireman summarizes. “But my time horizon is longer: now is a great time for me to really prepare for when the slow time is over, and develop the products that we’ll need for the global markets. So I need to go faster when things are slower, and the reorganization is central to setting this in motion.”
 
The Data Conundrum
While much discussion today centers on “Big Data,” Howard Fireman, CTO, ABS explains that it’s a discussion of quantity and quality. “Data by itself is interesting, but until you verify the data (it’s not really useful),” said Fireman. 
 
You have to look at it, remove the ‘noise’, you have to understand the potential shortcomings before you start applying things, and you have to really go through that information to optimize the data to ensure that it is filtered, processed and applied correctly. “What is our data strategy? That’s a very important discussion that we can’t have today because it’s still under development, but we’re working that one pretty hard. One of my objectives is: can I (help to) make the rules development process better?”
 
“The other part that we have that can help our clients is the Nautical Systems platform. We have a lot of tools in there that can help clients ensure that they have the right information.” 
 
 
(As published in the May 2016 edition of Maritime Reporter & Engineering News)
 
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