An interview with
Vaibhav Parsoya, Director of FLOAT
Tell me about FLOAT – what is it and what does it aim to achieve?
FLOAT is a new technology venture – a start-up enterprise operating autonomously within LR, set up to develop a digital product that will improve the safety and performance of maritime infrastructure, and reduce human operations in offshore hazardous areas. It will enable asset operators to utilise more and more in-service data to take informed decisions about their operational performance and safety, saving them money and reducing human risk.
FLOAT is an ambitious venture which is developing first of its kind digital twin technology for the maritime world. It is going to transform how our industry classifies and assures assets. It’s a major undertaking, and we’re not talking in terms of ten-year plans, as our sector tends to do. On the contrary: this is a fast paced, single-minded mission, breaking new ground, and bringing together some of the most talented product developers, naval architects and engineers in the UK.
We are adopting agile working and scrum team practices, working in two-week sprints to achieve continuous incremental progress, towards our ultimate goal of launching our new product in 2022. In doing so, by moving at this aggressive pace, we expect to gain a significant share of this emerging digital market for risk and performance management of industrial assets through live data.
It’s a start up model, but it will generate new revenue for LR, and is supported and backed at the highest levels. Our latest investment is dedicated to bringing in a squad to work at this pace and keep us on track.
You refer to FLOAT as a “mission” – what do you mean?
Aside from my professional ambition, and my personal passion for creating results and achieving the goal of creating a brand new ground-breaking, industry-changing product, there is definitely another key driver here.
I have met and spoken to many highly respected, talented, and dedicated surveyors in my time at LR. These are remarkable people, and they speak proudly of their experiences when out on the ocean, working on ships in high seas, scaling tanks, crossing from one ship to another – working in an extreme and hazardous environment. And whilst I’m impressed, I can’t help thinking: why it is still the same in 21st century?? Why still send people out in these conditions, at their personal risk, when it is all avoidable, with the correct use of technology and live data? When our product achieves its vision, it will use digital twin modelling to live-manage the performance of floating assets, predicting the need to repair and replace without the need for a human inspection.
That drives and motivates me. Yes, working with an emerging technology and developing a unique new product are fantastic and exhilarating. But this – the opportunity to revolutionise how our industry operates and make it safer and reduce risk to human life – transforming our human workforce towards a positive and sustainable future society – that is something else.
Isn’t joining a start-up a risk for new recruits?
There is one key difference between the FLOAT venture, and a traditional tech start up model. Traditional start-ups usually start with a technology that is developed or with a technology concept that is considered viable and during the start-up they look to find commercialisation. FLOAT is the opposite. FLOAT has started with a validated value proposition and strong commercialisation opportunities and is instead looking to create technologies to deliver that.
The team will be working hard on the research and implementation of the knowledge and technologies to meet the customer’s requirements. We have worked in partnership with our clients from the start, and we will be heavily engaged with them throughout the development. Our customers are our co-creation partners and help us drive the development in a highly commercial direction.
It’s also important to re-emphasise how FLOAT sits within LR. We are a start-up unit, operating in a completely different way to any other part of LR, to allow us to move quickly and to innovate. BUT we sit within a collection of digital ventures at LR, and we are 100% supported and backed, both in financial and management terms, by the senior leadership team at LR. There is no ‘start-up’ risk for the talented people who join us – there are opportunities beyond FLOAT, to move into another part of LR, to join another digital project team, to continue with FLOAT on our journey beyond the first completion milestone. And I don’t need to explain the solidity and long heritage of LR as the lynchpin of the maritime industry for over 250 years.
What will appeal to me considering these roles?
There is so much that will appeal to the right people. I say that because it’s not for everyone. This is a super fast-paced, agile, sprint-based working environment. We are all working together towards a highly ambitious shared goal, pushing hard and expecting to achieve solid results on a two-weekly rolling basis. There will be freedom and autonomy, as opposed to spoon feeding. For some, this is a golden opportunity. In addition, let’s not forget the fact that we are doing something truly disruptive. It hasn’t been done before. We are breaking new ground, and we are going to turn our industry on its head; making significant change to how classification works for good.
We are creating technology that doesn’t exist. Our vision is to achieve technological advancement that is beyond what is even happening in aerospace and automotive industries. For engineers and developers, this is an opportunity to be working at the frontier of truly innovative technological advancement and make a significant and positive impact on the industry.
In terms of career advancement, there is also huge potential for the kind of progress that isn’t possible in bigger firms, and more established teams. We are like a mini-business, from R&D to innovation to software development, and we are at the beginning of a journey, accelerating and growing fast. It will be a small dynamic team at the start, where there is scope to have real influence.
There is also the opportunity to make change that has a positive preventative effect on incidences relating to ships. Ever Given on the Suez Canal, MOL Comfort… these are not only bad for the environment but also for our global supply chain. Digital technologies will prevent these kinds of incidences, so positively impacting our daily lives as well as making our sector safer.
And let’s not forget the support of and access to highly experienced executives and a large network of knowledgeable staff and experts that usually lacks in a normal start-up. We leverage existing, mature infrastructure that exists in LR such as IT, HR and working space, along with the financial backing.
Where did the name FLOAT originate from?
It’s based on the simple idea that the products we are building will support the floatation needs of maritime operators. Whether it is a ship that needs to carry cargo or an offshore rig (floating process plant) that needs to process oil or gas, our product will help with the floatation of the cargo or the process plant by measuring the risk to the floatation part of the asset.
So the name is based on the value our venture will deliver to our buyers and users.
What role does Lloyds Register play in the FLOAT venture?
On a day-to-day basis? None. But in terms of support, we have financial security, and access to big-company resources (HR, management strategy, office space) plus access to extensive expertise and client touchpoints. Plus, with FLOAT forming part of a collection of digital and technology ventures, we have other likeminded sister-ventures to share ideas with.
LR also has much appeal as a backer. Far from being a faceless, profit-hungry investor, LR is a company with purpose, and which genuinely does good. LR is wholly owned by the Lloyd’s Register Foundation, a UK charity dedicated to research and education in science and engineering.
It is one of the biggest funders of the RNLI. It supports post graduate research into making the world a safer place, e.g. sub-sea construction without risking human life. It funded the first bridge constructed out of materials made on 3D printers. It continuously reinvests profits into technology and innovation. Employees can be seconded into the Foundation to work for the charity, to do some good work, and explore other sectors.
What is your background, and what brought you to LR and to the FLOAT venture?
My involvement in the maritime sector is really driven by a life-long fascination with engineering marvels. I was a keen student of engineering, reading mechanical engineering and later specialised in Naval Architecture with a Master’s degree at Newcastle University.
My first role after that was in a start-up consultancy. It was involved with highly specialist and complex engineering calculations, and it provided the most complete grounding and insight that I could have wished for, including the ownership of research and relationships with clients, and I made lots of excellent contacts. I learned the importance of customer focus, on being agile and responsive.
Then I moved to LR, into a highly specialised R&D role, working in specialist engineering standards development. It was fascinating and important work, but I realised that above all, I really value client connection, and so I moved into the newly formed innovation team at LR, working on solving problems, delivering technology solutions to clients, and developing products, with increasing focus on digital.
And now we’ve created FLOAT, which brings together all my skills, experience, my drive for innovation, and customer focus.