Interview with Steve J Nell

Marine Data Solutions, provides world class maritime technology solutions for the African continent. Based in Cape Town, The South African company is owned by staff and the Kongsberg (Group) Norcontrol IT of Norway. Systems and support services are offered to Maritime Authorities and associated industries, to enable them to achieve their desired business objectives through the provision, maintenance and support of maritime technology.

Marine Data Solutions, led by Director Steve J Nell, provides a broad and complex array of maritime technological solutions including; Vessel Traffic Management, Coastal Surveillance Systems, Port Management Information Systems, Offshore Collision Avoidance Systems and Navigation Solutions. “Twelve to fifteen years ago there was a real reluctance to adopt new technology but now because of recent issues to do with safety and efficiency, such as pirate activity and recent disasters, people are looking to technology to increase awareness and surveillance, as well as to plan more effectively. Naturally, this has led to an increasing interest and demand for our maritime domain awareness solutions”.

Indeed, the company’s growth and success in recent years can be put down to the growing tide of pressure on African maritime authorities to improve efficiency and safety. Marine Data Solutions, can be seen to have carved itself out as a market leader by provision of quality maritime technology that successfully meets local and international demands.

Part ownership by the Kongsberg Group, has been crucial in enabling the company to develop and trial new systems ahead of being released to the market. The Kongsberg group, which has wide involvement with the military, oil and gas industries, has facilitated access to a wide range of technologies. This has allowed Marine Data Solutions, to access and provide for clients, the latest world class and internationally demonstrated Software and Hardware. The advantage means an excellent range of services, can be offered at acceptable cost levels while still conforming to end-user requirements and functionality needs.

Investment in maintaining excellent relationships with customers and staff has also been key for the company’s growth. “Important for us has been having a team that understands the value of the customer and that goes the extra mile to keep our customers happy. We keep track of our customer needs and the associated trends and ensure that we stay ahead of the curve to serve those needs in a mutually beneficial way”.

Major projects recently completed have been the upgrade of VTMIS for all RSA ports, and the Coastal Automatic Identification System for South Africa. Long term maintenance and support contracts have been signed to ensure high levels of maintenance for these systems. In the last year Maritime Data Solutions, has implementing Solid State Radars for South African customers for VTS purposes. This is a first for the African continent, and an achievement about which only 5 countries globally could boast at the time of completion of the project. The last 12 months saw Marine Data Solutions, awarded a high profile contract by the World Bank, to install AIS Systems in several African Countries. “This award has been significant in recognising our position on the continent as a premium provider of world class surveillance solutions. We’re the only company in Africa focused solely on these technologies”, Nell. The implementation of a mobile AIS application for Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) provides the harbour masters and relevant personnel with real-time vessel traffic around the RSA coastline, and in the ports – it’s a valuable contribution from the innovative company.

Sustainability and environmental issues have a firm place on the agenda. 2014 will see Marine Data Solutions install renewable energy at offices to power critical business systems including servers and telephone systems. Supporting local communities is also important for the leadership team. “We always give back to our community – schools, churches and special causes. Every single year since our inception we’ve aimed to support by all means including cash and computer equipment”, Nell.

The immediate future should see the company maximise and build further on their position as the premier provider of Maritime Domain Awareness Solutions on the African continent. The company has a national presence in Durban and Port Elizabeth and further international offices form an integral part of future objectives. The plan is to establish a base in Namibia, and expand further up into East Africa, building on strong relationships with local partners “We want to work with our local partners to diversify our business and take advantage of the opportunities in the other segments of the maritime technology market” Nell.

Marine Data Solutions, continues to prove that it can more than meet the technological needs of Africa’s port and coastal authorities. With sought after state of the art systems and excellent service offerings, such as its ability to offer technical support 365 days a year, prospects for the company’s expansion and growth throughout Africa look excellent. Under the unquestionably committed leadership of Nell, Marine Data Solutions, is set as the go to company for maritime technology solutions across Africa.