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DNVGL: Data Transparency is Changing the World Around Us

Rob Almeida
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May 4, 2015

The bridge of a modern, dynamically-positioned drillship

“Transparency of information is changing the world around us,” commented Tor Svensen, CEO of DNV GL’s maritime business in an interview with gCaptain earlier this year at the Connecticut Maritime Association conference. As more and more systems become interconnected internally and externally, new challenges and threats to safety and security are emerging however.

“We have to be very clear that we are talking about not just cyber attacks, which is a possible threat, but the integrity of ships systems as vessels get more software-driven and integrated software systems become the part of modern ships.”

Born in the Offshore Sector

“As technology in the offshore sector became more complex, we started developing procedures for software development and integration. We then moved into testing of control systems and are now moving into the vulnerability of external threats,” says Svensen.

In 2014, DNVGL acquired Marine Cybernetics, an offshoot of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology at Trondheim which has been working on developing Hardware-in-the-Loop (HIL) testing, – a way of assessing the control system and its robustness – says Svensen. “Control systems have millions of options, but on sea trial you can only test a few procedures.”

The primary customer for the HIL testing program has been the drilling rig operators who specify it as part of the contract for the new rig, and Svensen notes new customers have recently utilized it within the offshore support vessel and subsea construction vessel sector.  “Merchant ships in general are simpler, however and we haven’t got too much further than DP-controlled ships,” says Svensen.

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“This system is about taking into consideration the fact that we are more and more dependent on software systems that are frequently part of critical control systems. We have to make sure they function, are reliable and that we can maintain their integrity all the time.”

“On merchant ships, the issue first and foremost is to ensure the system integration is done in such as way that we are not vulnerable to conflicts in between systems and that the software is tested properly and updates are made properly. Today you can do remote updating of software via the internet, but what is your vulnerability when doing that? And, as these systems are connected to the internet via high speed connections, what is your vulnerability to cyber attacks?”

“This is the future,” adds Svensen, “but we have to build safeguards around this and the crew on board cannot be expected to be specialists on how to operate these safeguards. They need to be built into the system.”

As more and more systems are interconnected and able to capture and process data, the theme of “big data” continues to expand.

“We have moved into a very transparent world, but it’s useless unless we know what to apply it to. We need to bring relevant data into our specific application and needs,” says Svensen.  “It needs to be brought down to practical use.  Big data is not going to solve the world’s problems, but it will bring up some new opportunities, and challenges.”

Some of the big issues that original equipment manufacturers, ship owners and third parties such as DNV GL are focusing on are sorting out answers to questions such as:

Who owns the data?
Who is the custodian of the data?
And, who will ensure the integrity and confidentiality of this data?

“I think many of the OEMs are watching and wondering how to deal with this. A shipping company, for example, may not want to leave themselves completely open to OEMs having access to everything. Some may do it through a third party like ourselves who actually control what data other parties get,” says Svensen.

Looking ahead, Mr. Svensen sees early prototyping of this kind of data management application in a very short time.

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