Despite the obvious disruption to daily life, the COVID-19 pandemic has inevitably put the spotlight back on technology – and, in particular, how IT and communications could assist future operations, according to Jennifer Carpenter (pictured), president and CEO of American Waterways Operators (AWO), which acts as an advocate for US towboat, tug and barge operators.
Speaking in early May, Carpenter said: “A very positive lesson of this experience has been how successfully we’ve been able to leverage technology to get us through this. Employees who can do so are working from home; that is reducing their risk of exposure. There are activities, from audits and surveys to provisioning vessels, that can be done [with] reduced contact… I think these are all things that we’re going to want to look at, going forward.”
She added: “We’re not going to want to do everything remotely forever. There is benefit from in-person audits: actually sitting down face-to-face with the crew and not being on FaceTime. There is value to walking around a vessel. But, increasingly, we’re going to want to take a look at what we can do ahead of time; what we can do with objective evidence that reduces the downtime involved in some of these in-person interactions.”
Naturally, with teleconferencing, Zoom meet-ups and webinars replacing the marine sector’s spring and summer exhibitions, online security has once more come to the fore. Regarding cybersecurity, Carpenter commented: “We’ve been really fortunate – and it’s not just luck, because good hard work has been put in to making our IT systems robust – but this experience has shown that our networks have been our lifeline, and God forbid they go down due to some malicious act or just ‘stuff happening’.
“I think this experience reinforces the fact that cybersecurity has got to be a focus for everyone. It doesn’t matter where you’re located, or the size or complexity of your operation; we’ve got to make sure that we’ve got the networks, the systems that will support us through unusual events."
With regards to cybersecurity, Specops Software, a firm specialising in password protection and authentication solutions, recently announced: “There has been a large increase in COVID-19-related spam emails and texts which, in turn, will create a larger attack opportunity for the wider hacking community.” This can become trickier when employees working from home share their devices with other family members, some of whom may be “less IT-savvy”, Specops says. “In general, IT departments are not well prepared for mass remote working, meaning out-of-date remote access solutions are likely being used on a mass scale,” the company adds. Related to this, Finnish cybersecurity firm Arctic Security recently stated that the number of "compromised organisations" across the globe has more than doubled since January 2020.