Navigating the marine intelligence market: choosing the right solution for your assets

  • Suryadeep Jain
    Manager, Industrials  
    October 30, 2019

For commercial shipping companies and government defence bodies alike, knowing where ships are, what conditions they’re facing, and when they’re likely to arrive at their destination is essential. Marine intelligence solutions provide a streamlined way of accessing and understanding vessel location data – but with so many solutions available, and technology evolving rapidly, how can organisations make an informed purchasing choice?


Whether you’re a commercial shipping company, or a government defence agency tasked with ensuring national security, if you have a fleet of vessels to manage, knowing where they are and where they’re headed is essential.

Today, 90% of the world’s trade volume moves across the ocean, and maritime traffic has increased by 300% over the last 20 years. Conditions are changing, routes and channels are becoming busier, and the need to accurately track and manage your vessels is becoming greater by the day.

Fortunately, during this time, satellite tracking technology has also transformed significantly, enabling companies to build and deploy a new generation of marine intelligence solutions.

Better visibility of vessels and deep data on their activity enables organisations to optimise their operations in new and exciting ways. From improving the efficiency of shipping routes and supply chains, to optimising the movements and positioning of naval fleets, more data gives anyone in charge of vessel operations a chance to get more from the ships they manage.

For those operating fleets, it also opens up new services that are very appealing to modern clients. Real-time ship tracking enables people to see where their cargo is at all times, and clearly follow its movements around the globe – something that’s just as valuable to individual consumers as it is to large companies that depend on up-to-the-minute delivery information to support agile manufacturing processes.

For large industrial manufacturers, that’s game-changing technology. Having better visibility of where essential materials are and being able to accurately estimate when they’ll arrive at their destination can completely transform the way goods are produced – eliminating wasted time and inefficiency in core manufacturing processes.

For anyone with a stake in managing and optimising the movements and activities of vessels, the appeal of marine intelligence solutions is clear. But it’s an extremely broad and technical area – one that many buyers simply don’t have the experience or knowledge to navigate effectively.

There are numerous options and solutions to consider, and thanks to the high pace of innovation and technological change in the field, they’re all constantly changing.

What’s available, and what’s it really going to do for you?

Many organisations looking to effectively track and monitor ships at sea choose to work with specialist partners who analyse their requirements and challenges, and provide tailored solutions. These companies broadly fall into three categories:

Data aggregators including CLS and Telespazio source different types of data such as Automatic Identification System (AIS) and satellite imagery. The breadth of data offered by these aggregators makes them a popular option for companies with extensive tracking needs. The wide choice of providers in this space and the relatively simple nature of their operations can make them a cost-effective option.

Specialist companies such as Inmarsat and Orbcomm focus on a specific type of marine intelligence data, and supplement it with additional contextual data such as weather forecasts and shipping reports to create a comprehensive and practical offering. If you know exactly which type of marine data will be most valuable for your needs, working with a specialist can be an appealing option.

Integrated firms like Airbus and Harris offer bespoke visualisation and analytics solutions in addition to generating and providing their own satellite data. While extremely valuable for manufacturers looking to turn shipping data into actionable insight, developing these capabilities requires high capital investment, making them a viable option only for companies with extensive resources.

Turning data into insight and action

Better marine insight begins with great data, but data alone won’t enable the kinds of organisational and operational change that commercial shipping companies and government bodies want it to. There’s another part to the puzzle – visualisation and analytics.

Vessel operators of all kinds need to be able to track and visualise their shipping operations in as close to real-time as possible. When exploring marine intelligence solutions, this is the clear output that many of them have in mind.

Numerous marine intelligence companies have recognised this need, and are innovating in different ways to deliver the actionable marine insight that commercial shipping companies and government defence bodies demand.

The pace of change is high, but three types of innovation currently dominate the market:

Geospatial analytics

Machine learning (ML)-enabled geospatial analytics platforms, such as those offered by Harris Corporation and Orbital Insight, provide real-time analysis of complex imagery data. Image-processing algorithms analyse raw, corrupted and low-resolution data to identify objects of interest and possible threats, enabling predictive insight into conditions that may impede a ship’s progress. This goes beyond providing simple insight into location to deliver reliable predictions about routes, travel times, and expected times of arrival.

AIS-based monitoring

Cloud-based AIS monitoring solutions like those offered by ESRI and exactEarth, help businesses visualise AIS data from their own vessels or acquired from a third party. Similarly to geospatial analytics solutions, these platforms combine AIS data along with satellite imagery to detect anomalies and threats.

These solutions are designed to process raw AIS data with very low latency, making them a viable option for any manufacturer that wants to track vessels globally using AIS data alone.

Interactive data visualisation tools

Some providers, including Maxar Technologies and Hexagon, are breaking away from traditional ways of analysing and presenting data, and looking for new ways to display and explore geospatial data. 3D and Virtual Reality can make geospatial data easier to understand and engage with, especially for those new to the field.

While exciting, tools this sophisticated likely go far beyond what many commercial customers would look for in a marine intelligence solution. But for large organisations with large fleets to optimise, they present a compelling solution to decades-old data visualisation challenges.

Make the right choice with better market intelligence

The marine intelligence market is going through a period of rapid evolution. While a huge number of solutions are available to anyone that wants to better track and manage fleets of vessels, some are far better suited to today’s environment than others.

The solution you choose will ultimately depend on what your organisation wants to achieve. For government defence agencies, pinpoint location accuracy is essential. For commercial shipping firms, accurate and reliable estimations of travel time are likely to be much more important.

If you’re evaluating solutions today, or planning to modernise the way you track and manage vessels in the near future, market intelligence will be your most valuable resource. Work to understand the innovations happening in the market, explore the different options for data visualisation and analysis available, and ensure that whatever you invest in is future-ready.

If you’d like to learn more about how The Smart Cube’s Procurement and Supply Chain solutions can help you better understand the marine intelligence solutions market – or any other category or commodity – please do get in touch.