Co-innovation ecosystems and the maritime opportunity

Innovation has long been the holy grail for many organizations, and the maritime sector is no different. We look at why co-innovation is becoming increasingly important to stay ahead of changing markets and new competitors.

Historically, however, the maritime industry is one of the last many would consider to be innovative. On paper, it’s easier to see why: according to one survey, 80% of ports rely on manual systems and processes such as whiteboards or spreadsheets to manage marine services, while vital documentation such as bills of lading are still often couriered or faxed to relevant parties.

The reality could not be more different. In Europe alone, the sector has a variety of initiatives helping to incubate new ways of thinking to produce products and services that can radically improve the maritime sector. From 3D-printed quay bollards and zero-emission, fully-electric shunting locomotives to drone deliveries, digital marketplaces to fill empty containers and 5G-enabled live streaming from tugboats, a wealth of maritime-focused innovation is challenging established thinking.

Of course, the industry is incredibly broad – what counts as innovation in one area may not seem so ground breaking in another. Yet what all the examples above have in common is their genesis – they are all the result of co-innovation ecosystems.

Why it is time for co-innovation

Organizations seek out co-innovation to diversify where ideas come from with the intent of opening up new opportunities they could not generate alone. By working in an ecosystem, each party brings different strengths and experiences, as well as helping to reduce the cost of innovation and potentially deliver better, tangible ideas faster.

In a digital world, this increasingly means having at least one technology provider, whether an established leader or a disruptive start-up. In this way, more organizations benefit from collective effort, rather than just ones with the resources and brand awareness to forge successful partnerships.

Cross-fertilization of ideas

At Orange we have been able to use the learnings we’ve developed in deploying Internet of Things (IoT) platforms to help companies in the automotive and mining sectors improve data capture and sharing. This has transformed their working practices to deliver better results for end customers.

We’ve also translated that knowledge into the work we’re doing with Europe’s first e-health digital ecosystem alongside partners including Capgemini and Sanofi. In each instance, all parties have benefited from the additional scale the other organizations bring and their access to markets that might otherwise have been harder to break into.

Those projects are also examples of how to build the right ecosystems. As I covered in a previous blog post, potential participants need to be clear on what they and their partners might bring to the initiative, where everyone differs and where they complement each other. The best ecosystems are founded on defined business drivers, not just whether the biggest names are involved.

Co-innovation is ideal for those industries that create organic ecosystems, where parties are dependent on others to help them fulfill the delivery of services to customers. That’s why the maritime sector should be ripe for co-innovation opportunities due to its interconnected nature. Shipping lines deliver cargo for customers, yet in almost all cases, they need partners (such as ports, rail and road operators and freight forwarders) to get the goods from ship to final point of discharge.

Different industries, one goal

It’s the same for building ecosystems designed to drive co-innovation. The most successful of these identify and bring together partners with different expertise and abilities to augment the other stakeholders. As such, it’s no surprise we often see ecosystems where several industry leaders bring together a variety of startups.

People often conflate innovation with start-ups with good reason: successful start-ups are usually disruptors and are well used to innovating to solve problems, whether market-sized or just within their own operations.

These initiatives are designed to address real challenges within industries by matching leaders with startups and scaleups in a collaborative outcome-oriented program. The likes of PortXL, the Port of Rotterdam’s innovation incubator, Wilhelmson’s Maritime Innovation Lab and the Trade & Transport Impact Program run by Wartsila, Shell and Inmarsat to name a few, all focus on this area. The benefits are clear – startups get access to industry leaders’ resources and support, while the latter get first access to ideas that could be the next big thing.

Partnerships between enterprises

Yet it would be a mistake to think that the only use for ecosystems is as another way of incubating early-stage businesses. Often, the most dramatic, immediate and applicable results can come from partnerships between established companies, such as the work we’re doing with the Port of Antwerp. By combining the logistical connectivity and real estate of one of Europe’s leading terminals with our standalone 5G network, together we’ve created an Industry 4.0 campus.

This provides the sort of scale that businesses of all sizes can benefit from, including high-tech polymer manufacturer Covestro and chemical giant BASF. Both are incorporating 5G-enabled devices (both handsets and wearables) to gather, process and analyze data in real-time, improving processes and speeding up the amount of work employees can do, without even being onsite.

We’re also helping the port itself improve tugboat productivity by connecting vessels to the 5G network, rapidly accelerating the sharing of imagery and video to enhance visibility for both tug pilots and operators on the quay side.

The role of ecosystems in a transforming sector

It is important to remember, however, that innovation needs to have impact at scale. Pilot schemes and niche proof of concepts are great for trialing potential opportunities, but the partner organizations must have the capability to launch and support any services to the wider market. This includes being able to operate and manage cutting-edge technology, from ultra-fast, reliable and secure 5G networks to IoT sensors and data analytics.

As the maritime industry digitally transforms, it is imperative that all parties involved have the capabilities to support both customers and suppliers. For the Port of Antwerp, being part of the Industry 4.0 campus ecosystem has given it a technology infrastructure, which will allow it to better connect with customers’ own systems and applications. The infrastructure will also increase the number of services it offers to companies that use the port to facilitate their own offerings, as well as broadening the markets it has access to.

Our co-innovation ecosystem with the Port of Antwerp is a just one example of how using the resources of different entities can bring together sector leaders of a similar mindset and reap significant rewards for all. It can only work because all parties want to change how they operate, recognize how interconnected business is today, and see how collaborating with others can support innovation efforts for the collective good.

Orange Business has developed relationships with many companies across the ecosystem to develop new innovations, such as our work with MobileEye developing safety systems for vehicles. If you are interested in speaking to us about co-innovation, please contact me at:

Jonas Wallengren
Jonas Wallengren

Jonas Wallengren is a Senior Digital Business Consultant at Orange Business, leading business consulting and innovation teams to help multinational organizations find, enable and scale up growth through the data value chain. He has a passionate focus on mobility, sustainability and resource efficiency and believes that digitally empowered people who use data in smart ways in a hyperconnected society will be the great enablers. He is also a skateboard enthusiast.