5/2020

The role of technology in a world shaped by COVID-19

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Klas Bendrik, Chief Digital Transformation Officer, DNV GL

The human impact of COVID-19 remains at the forefront of all our minds. However, the dramatic economic impact associated with the measures designed to stop the spread of the virus must also be addressed.

In a new reality that is typified by physical distancing, digital tools and processes have gained a relevance like never before. DNV GL operates in industries that need to keep moving whether there is a pandemic or not. In our role as a risk management and quality assurance company, we ensure that ships are seaworthy, the energy supply is secure and supply chains are transparent and functional.

It is becoming clearer that we will not be able to continue where we left off. A new normality has been forced upon us and we must therefore look at how technology can help mitigate risks now and when this new reality crystallizes.

Keeping ships moving through remote surveys

To obtain the required certificates to sail, ships must undergo a variety of inspections. Traditionally, a close-up survey requires the structure to be within the reach of the surveyor’s hand. However, since 2017, in our role as a leading classification society, we have been exploring how video could be a safe and more efficient alternative to some physical inspections. The process involves a member of the crew using a phone or tablet to film the asset in question and share the video with one of our maritime hubs. This is now an established and recognized practice and we recently announced that we have carried out 15 000 inspections on vessels in such a way.

Operators in the energy service sector are forging ahead in a similar vein. “Remote survey technology is ready, and I personally believe now is the time to start using it seriously,” said Lino Papetti, head of post order management, E&C onshore, Saipem.

We are already working on the evolution of this service. When faced with complex assets, inspections traditionally require the use of cherry pickers, climbing, scaffolding or, if inside a ballast tank, even rafting. Drones have been used for some time as an alternative, but they require very skilled pilots and they become obsolete without a GPS signal. We have been working with the start-up Scout to develop drones that will eventually operate autonomously inside oil and gas tanks. They generate 4K video which is read by an algorithm trained to spot anomalies.

Digital tools enable agility in times of crisis

In recent weeks we have been in dialogue with customers who still need to undergo audits but are restricted by physical distancing. These audits are vital for companies to achieve the required certification to operate in their chosen market. We have been able to use our existing digital tools to carry out hundreds of remote audits instead of onsite visits.

In Italy, for example, we have conducted 470 remote management system certification audits over the last three weeks and all onsite courses that were slated for the classroom were moved online. Not one was cancelled. Digitalization has given us and our customers flexibility, but such examples also indicate the extreme human resiliance and dedication that is required to keep business moving in the face of such trying circumstances.

The case for blockchain is even stronger

We have identified blockchain as an important technology for building trust in supply chains. The blockchain ensures the authenticity of data and renders it trustworthy among stakeholders previously unknown to each other. Any attempt to manipulate products, existing data or information within the distributed ledger is made impossible. Among our first customers were Italian wine makers who wanted to show the authentic story of each bottle of wine, from the vine to the shelf.

Blockchain’s central principle of trust will be even more relevant in the new normality created by COVID-19. Supply chains are being redrawn as governments and businesses scramble to meet spikes in demand for certain products like Personal Protective Equipment. At the same time, one of the cornerstones of modern manufacturing – just in time delivery – has become incompatible with lockdown and unstable demand. The extent to which our supply chains will be re-drawn and the permanence of the changes is uncertain, but what we can control is the transparency of the supply chains. And it is here that blockchain offers a unique solution.

Blockchain also has a role to play building trust in remote audits. The ability to make videos immutable adds credibility to the whole process.

Industry 4.0. and the new normality

The pandemic has expedited many digital transformations and those companies that were already leveraging the fourth industrial revolution have been able to adjust better to the disruption. For example, if you have been working effortlessly from home, you can probably thank your IT department for moving your essential tools to the cloud.

Companies that are leveraging the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) benefit from the intrinsic values of the cloud such as decentralised working (not tied to a physical server), collaboration and 24/7 remote access. DNV GL-owned GreenPowerMonitor, which monitors around 3 500 renewable energy facilities around the globe, was able to tell its customers that it was ‘business as usual’, because its cloud-based infrastructure allows its algorithms and experts to work seamlessly from home. Similarly, WindGEMINI – a digital twin service that has analysed millions of hours of wind turbine data – continues to be effective as it is not limited by physical distancing.

Digitalization is not the end

The focus here is on technology but we must not forget that digitalization is a means rather than the end. Over recent weeks our experts have been working with governments and companies to help role out their own solutions to track and virus or mitigate risk when we return to work. The flexibility, resilience and ingenuity to keep business moving has been remarkable and this sort of approach will help us to live with and then overcome this pandemic.

Take care and stay safe!