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Big Data In The Shipping Industry: How To Take Advantage Of It

Updated July 25, 2022
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Ships have been around since the time of the ancient Egyptians. That was, quite literally, ages ago! 


The shipping industry is a vast and complex series of connections. Global trade will not be possible without the exchange of goods through this industry. With the advent of big data, many industries have capitalized on it to develop processes, enhance efficiency, and solve problems. Here’s an essential guide on how big data can be used in today’s shipping industry.

What is big data?

Big data is a massive collection of data. This data comes from several processes and in huge volumes. It comes in such an enormous volume that it cannot be traditionally stored in flash disks or hard drives; big data is stored in the cloud.


Big data can be divided into two categories – traditional and non-traditional. Traditional data is considered structured data. This data can be collected through forms, processes, management systems, transactions, receipts, and similar data collection methods. Traditional big data comes from client files and stock prices in the banking and finance industry. In retail, this data can come from procurement and inventory files.


In contrast, non-traditional data refers to unstructured data. The data comes from time-sensitive information such as traffic, movement, location, and weather. Most non-traditional data sources are unstructured – multimedia files and text communications.


While traditional data is useful for keeping a record of stock prices and inventory records, non-traditional data helps monitor changes and predict potential problems down the road. 

Big Data in the Shipping Industry

Now that you know what big data is, how does it relate to the shipping industry? 


The shipping trade transports a massive volume of freight daily. It delivers goods to businesses, governments, and individuals all over the world. With this huge volume of cargo comes a large volume of data as well – data that can be classified as big data.


Big data generated by the shipping industry comes from both traditional and non-traditional sources. The data is collected, consolidated, and stored in the cloud. The shipping industry can use this data to adapt to real-time changes that are otherwise unpredictable. 

Best Uses of Big Data in the Shipping Industry

There are plenty of uses of big data in the shipping industry. It can be used in developing better ship routes, predicting weather conditions, and creating more accurate tracking systems for shipments. 


Essentially, big data can be used to improve all the processes in the shipping industry. The goal of big data is to ensure the ship’s safety, the freight, and the crew members.


Here are some popular uses of big data in the shipping industry.

1. Predicting Patterns

Big data can predict patterns previously left to chance. The volume of data collected is enough for analysts and engineers to predict the cargo load and labor requirements per trip accurately. It can also help spot trends affecting shipment schedules and sailing times.


More importantly, big data can provide fairly accurate weather forecasts. With the use of past weather data, shipping companies can predict the occurrence of potentially dangerous weather conditions. This will help them prepare for any problems that they may encounter and avoid damage to the vessel.

2. Tracking and Monitoring

With the amount of cargo being loaded on a ship on each trip, tracking each package becomes easier with the use of big data. Shipping companies can take advantage of this by investing in GPS and RFID tags to secure each parcel, no matter how big or small it is. Nowadays, ships use built-in GPS trackers. The use of these GPS tracking devices can help provide real-time information on the location of ships and even crew members. 

3. Optimizing Routes

One of the best ways to take advantage of big data is to use it to optimize shipping routes. The data gathered through constant monitoring can help ships predict weather patterns and adjust their route accordingly. 

4. Adjusting Prices

Using predictive analysis of the big data, shipping companies can adjust prices based on the current economic situation. Big data can provide patterns of supply and demand that shipping companies can use for strategic planning. Pricing can become more flexible based on economic and seasonal trends.

5. Promoting Sustainability

Big data can lead to automation and efficiency. Shipping companies can adjust their operational processes based on big data analysis. As global trends are now leading to Sustainability, the shipping industry can improve energy consumption and decrease carbon emissions with the use of big data analysis. Ships can reduce carbon emissions, promote compostable packaging options, and reduce operational expenses through automation. All these are possible with the use of big data.


Self-driving cars are already here – the shipping industry’s future may very well lead to self-sailing ships as well. The automation of the shipping industry is the next big step in its development. Using big data to develop shipping innovations will directly affect global trade making it more efficient, sustainable, and secure.

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