Home >> April 2013 Edition >> Executive Spotlight: Malcom McMaster
Executive Spotlight: Malcom McMaster
President, Globecomm Maritime

SatMagazine (SM)
Good day, Mr McMaster. Would you please tell our readers how you came to become involved in the maritime communications industry? What positions in your career have held you in good stead for your current executive position with the Company?

McMasterHead Malcolm McMaster
While my previous background was not in maritime communications, it sometimes feels that getting into this business was almost inevitable. I was born in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, traditionally a major shipbuilding area, and I spent almost 20 years working in the maritime industry, both with ship-owners and shipyards. I was involved in capital goods, manufacturing, and after sales support sectors. From day one, the international aspect of shipping held tremendous appeal for me. Subsequent to my ‘first’ career in maritime, I became involved in telecommunications and worked with companies such as Lucent, Philips and Motorola.

When I joined Telaurus as President in 2007, it seemed the most natural fusion of my previous maritime and telecoms experience. In 2009, I oversaw the sale of Telaurus to Globecomm and the subsequent creation and launch of Globecomm Maritime in March 2011.

A large part of my focus has been (and still is) on maximizing the synergy between the different component organizations that, to varying degrees, provide the product and service offerings of Globecomm Maritime: Telaurus, Globecomm Europe, and Globecomm South Africa. Most recently, as an organization, we have been driving an expanded product line, including a global hybrid VSAT/L-Band offering, an increased focus on crew welfare related value-added services, and Machine to Machine (M2M) services.

How does Globecomm Maritime work with the parent Company and is there any independence in operations and service decisions for your market segment? How does Globecomm support Globecomm Maritime?

Malcolm McMaster
As a company, Globecomm is organized by market verticals, and Globecomm Maritime is effectively the brand name of the maritime market vertical.

comtechEF_ad_SM0413 The willingness of Globecomm corporate to allow us to operate independently, and to provide support whenever it is needed, is a tremendous benefit to us and our customers. The Globecomm approach is “you are the maritime experts, so you run the business – just let us know how we can help and what you need in the way of support”. The actual support we get takes a number of forms, but includes 24/7 state-of-the-art Network Operations Center, one of the largest Ku-band networks in the world, access to Globecomm’s global high capacity managed fibre network of 13 Teleports and of course the financial strength that results from a company that has produced 35 consecutive profitable quarters.

What are the key needs and demands from maritime customers that you have identified as focus elements for Company revenue generation?

Malcolm McMaster
These are very interesting times for maritime communications, both for our customers and for us as a provider of airtime and value-added services.

There is increasing demand for the land-based experience at sea, both for business communications and for crew welfare services, and the choice of communications platforms and solutions has never been broader. But that doesn’t necessarily make the buying decision easier for customers.

Our role is to help shipowners, managers and operators to select packages of hardware, software, and airtime that truly reflect their needs, rather than simply recommending they fit the biggest ‘pipe’ available. We think this sort of partnership approach is the key to continuing revenue growth in the future.

Another area where we are seeing demand grow strongly is for real-time data systems that are used to remotely manage hardware devices and processes onboard. This kind of M2M communications has long been common in the energy market but ship and cargo owners are now embracing it to improve visibility on their supply chain.

How does Globecomm Maritime satisfy those needs? Why should customers decide on your solutions rather than other companies' offerings?

Malcolm McMaster
Globecomm Maritime is able to meet these needs because we provide solutions that are focused on flexibility and adaptability. We pride ourselves on being ‘technology agnostic’, which means that we are able to focus on what is the best solution for the customer, and this, of course, varies from customer to customer.

For the majority of ships ‘broadband’ is not going to be what we experience in our homes and businesses. So we spend a lot of time helping users get the most out of limited bandwidth at sea. As the demand increases so does the idea that ships can simply adopt mainstream applications and use them over satellite. The truth is this is rarely efficient in terms of bandwidth or cost.

McMasterFig1 Our heritage is in developing value-added solutions that are optimised for maritime, such as real-time email, remote IT access, crew Wi-Fi and message pre-billing, and we will continue to help owners get the best out of their connections.

For higher value shipping sectors – tankers and LNG for example – there is scope for higher bandwidth services, such as VSAT. On top of our maritime experience, which comes from providing service to 3,500 ships globally, our expertise with land-based applications positions us very well to accommodate the higher end services which can take advantage of the increasing bandwidth available to these users.

Another significant benefit we bring to ship-owners and managers is in hybrid solutions. As well as providing hybrid Ku/L-Band solutions, we also provide combined VSAT/GSM solutions used to provide end-to-end, 24/7 automated monitoring and real-time information control for vessels trading worldwide.

Given the somewhat sluggish business environment currently surrounding maritime, what seems to be of most importance to the customer—the provision of maximum possible bandwidth or tailor-made, budgeted solutions?

Malcolm McMaster
The reality is that there is no simple answer to this question, just as there is not a ‘one size fits all’ solution to communication needs. Some customers see the advances in technologies as a great opportunity to do a lot more without driving up their costs, while others are more cost conscious and want to use the newer technologies to do what they have always done, but at a much lower cost.

McMasterFig2 Many more traditional, and perhaps conservative, owners are still not focused on the opportunities that the new generation of maritime communications presents. What has happened over the last decade is that technology providers, rather than the owners, have been driving the market forward. The tail has been wagging the dog.

The message that we need to get across to change-resistant owners/managers is that this newer technology can add real value to their businesses. The benefits extend far beyond the IT department, and the sales message has to be heard at board level and has to demonstrate the real value and benefits that can accrue from the use of advance communications. In effect, we need to demonstrate better ROI that can be achieved.

When you can demonstrate how such applications as weather routing and vessel tracking can save fuel, how crew comms can retain valuable human capital, and how online training or videoconferencing can improve competence and increase agility, the decision process should become much easier.

Equally important is the need for predictability in both performance and pricing. We are agnostic about the technology services we provide, but whichever it is, owners need the solution to work as reliably as possible. For most owners that means global, seamless services from providers with a reputation for maximum uptime.

And shipping is no different to any other business in the sense that owners and managers like to budget and plan. That makes fixed price services such as VSAT packages or L-Band bundles increasingly popular so there are as few surprises as possible.

Pricing for products and services is a ticklish issue within the maritime communications environs… how does Globecomm Maritime maneuver within the pricing field? Is there much leeway in customized pricing plans for company ranging from small up to large maritime companies?

Malcolm McMaster
In terms of our L-Band services, Globecomm like other distribution partners, is a price taker. We have to work with the business decisions of the airtime providers. While some prices have risen in the last couple of years, it’s worth remembering that in comparative terms airtime has never been cheaper to end users. The trend is definitely towards pricing plans and we work to provide packages that are tailored as far as possible towards what a client really needs.

McMasterFig3 In the longer term, though, our focus will be as much about the value added services touched on earlier as in selling airtime. The barriers to entry in re-selling bandwidth are comparatively low. Having the experience to help a shipmanager gain value from their communications and save fuel through trim optimisation or engine monitoring is not, however, knowledge that can be gained overnight.

Globecomm has certainly been one of the innovators in crew calling services, providing Wi-Fi and dedicated crew networks. How do you see this market's growth possibilities for your firm and for the industry in general?

Malcolm McMaster
The potential for growth in providing crew services is very strong. In fact if you look in detail at the traffic that moves over some maritime VSAT installations, you can see that crew communications makes up a large portion of the demand.

When you think that Smartphones have only really been in the mass market for less than a decade, the generation who began using these as teenagers is just beginning to come into the workforce. In the next five years, we expect to see a huge increase in demand from crew wanting access not just to email but to the web and social media applications too.

Shipowners are coming under increasing pressure to provide that access, with some reporting that they struggle to retain good quality crew unless they provide these services. We have been hearing about crew retention issues for several years, but it is only now with the advance of broadband, coupled with lower airtime pricing, that owners and managers are beginning to embrace the idea. This creates a strong opportunity for Globecomm to build on its innovative approach to crew communications.

An additional important driver is that the senior officers are very busy people – they don’t want to have to manage the crew access. We realised that it would be comparatively simple to enable a ship for Wi-Fi and separate ship’s business from crew business. This separation is very helpful, and leaves the crew to manage the connections themselves.

Are nexgen HTS services a true game changer? Will there continue to be a place for L-band in the future?

Malcolm McMaster
High Throughput Satellite (HTS)services will be a game changer for some, but not for everyone. At the higher value end of the market, we can expect to see more oil and gas, tanker and offshore and military users consider HTS as a way to improve their operations.
However, the market for L-band is not going away, and for mainstream merchant shipping I would expect that it will continue to provide the backbone of connectivity - even after services such as Global Xpress and EPIC NG become operational. We may see the ARPU and total revenue decrease for L-band as the higher end customers move to VSAT and HTS, but in five years there will still be tens of thousands of ships using L-band.

McMasterFig4 Globecomm will continue to support those users and help them gain the best possible value out of L-band airtime, even while they are considering which next generation solution could be right for them.

Please offer your views on the future of value-added and new services—will there be new technologies, such as the ever-expanding cloud, making an impact on SATCOM over the next few years?

Malcolm McMaster
Value added services are already an extremely important component of our offering as bandwidth and hardware have tended to become more commoditized. Just as with a consumer offering, the key differentiator as a service provider is what you enable your customers to do with the available technology, and how well you can support those capabilities.

For Globecomm that means embracing the potential of the cloud and optimising it for the specific requirements of the maritime industry. We are already seeing the cloud making inroads into maritime, and the opportunities for virtualisation and replication of databases, and for M2M applications mean that this will not only continue, but will accelerate. With the support of Globecomm, and the Globecomm Cloud, we are in a very strong position to help our customers to adapt to and take advantage of these changes.

Are there are new products or services we might see from Globecomm Maritime during 2013?

Malcolm McMaster
Globecomm Maritime is continuously refreshing and improving its product portfolio. Examples include a new and improved anti-virus solution, and our se@REMOTE software for remote management of a ship’s IT network. However we do have some more significant and exciting developments which we will be announcing very shortly.

Our next launch will be a big one for crew communications, and will give seafarers a very cost-effective chat solution with video capabilities. The most well known product in this space is great when you’re ashore, but it was not designed for use over satellite. Our solution will give ships the same functionality, but it has been purpose-designed for maritime and so keeps bandwidth usage and costs under control. We’re very excited about the potential and the early feedback from customers has been very encouraging.

Please tell us about the most satisfying product(s) or project(s) you have been involved with during your career that truly bring a smile to your face.That’s a very tough question as there have been many events during my career that have brought me tremendous feelings of satisfaction.

However, I think I would have to say that helping bring about the sale of Telaurus to Globecomm, thereby helping to bring Globecomm into the maritime business, ranks right up there. In the same vein, I am extremely proud of the achievements of our team over the past few years. In a time of great difficulty for shipping and tremendous change in satellite communications, we have been able to double both our revenues and the size of the fleet served since Globecomm made its initial foray into maritime in 2009.