Innovation is a much broader concept than just technology; embracing that mindset is important. However, it is also important to understand that technology is disrupting the boating industry.
Let’s start with how technology will affect our most important product, boats. Boats are becoming floating computers. Digital switching and the related software is a more reliable combination than mechanical parts. It is giving consumers more information and allowing them to have better control of accessories, creating a better boating experience.
Telematics are becoming more important, too. Our company is already using them to diagnose boat issues remotely. We have numerous examples of identifying a potential boat issue before the customer even realized he had a problem. We are remotely updating multiple systems on boats through telematics that allow routine maintenance to be done at a customer’s dock, without the customer having to do anything. In addition, boat owners now expect basic location and status information about their boat to be available on their mobile devices, and telematics provide this. Telematics are quickly changing from “nice to have” to “must-have.” They are significantly improving the boat-ownership experience.
Active sensors will make boats easier to use and allow them not only to be driven more easily, but also to be safer to operate. As boats become more aware of their surroundings, accidents and operating risk will decrease. Steering and docking technology will play a big role, and over time should make boats less expensive to insure. In a broader use, the Internet of Things will allow boats to connect to several sources of information, which could eventually create a path to autonomous boating. And one day, we will use conversational computing to speak to our boats as we do today with Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa.
Boats are already moving toward renewable propulsion, and this trend will only increase. As battery and charging systems further evolve, electric propulsion will become an obvious choice. Our innovation company, Watershed Innovation, is already selling electric boats and working with a partner to develop hydrogen fuel cell boats. Having an electric boat will eventually become part of the energy strategy for the home. This is not a matter of if, but when. And when is coming fast.
Finally, technology will make it much easier for the boating industry to develop a shared-access, pay-for-use model.
Beyond the boats themselves, technology will also continue to revolutionize how we market our products. Technology has allowed us to have more direct contact with current and potential customers in a way that consumers value. Most boat companies have a multichannel customer communication approach that includes dealerships, websites, social media and mobile connections (texts, etc.). Technology is allowing us to transition marketing to an omnichannel approach, giving the consumer seamless integration and a better buying experience. Also, chat boxes and web-to-text communication are becoming expected as consumers seek immediate responses to their questions.
Increasing computational power will drive down the cost of providing consumers with virtual-reality experiences, and will become another expectation for boating consumers. VR is a huge opportunity for the boating industry, as it allows potential customers to experience boat walk-throughs and demos from their homes.
Technology levels the marketing playing field, allowing any industry newcomer to use blogs, social media and other marketing tools to create a brand story at a significantly lower cost than even a decade ago. This lowering of barriers to entry will result in more boating-industry competitors, some of which are certain to disrupt industry incumbents.
Overall, developing marketing technology will be great for our industry, as it allows us to personalize our messages and give the consumer a much more immersive experience. Those who succeed can create emotional bonds with customers that will last a lifetime.
And technology will affect how we develop boats. Our industry’s product-development processes have already been significantly improved with technology, and we are just getting started.
Computer-aided design, computational fluid dynamics and product data management are all being used today in our industry, and will only become more powerful and helpful. 3-D printing has sped up the development of prototype parts. The next big step in product development will be design via VR, which will integrate with our CAD programs to let us experience the new boat as we are developing it. These tools will allow us to build better-quality, better-performing and less-expensive boats.
Technology will also continue to affect how we build boats. Again, increasing computational power will drive down costs, allowing the industry to benefit from tools that are now used in the auto industry, but that have been cost-prohibitive to our industry because of our lower volumes. (And our volumes are much lower: A few years ago, I toured a Honda plant in Ohio and a BMW plant in South Carolina; it was impressive to see the significant use of robotics. Each plant I visited built more than 3,000 cars a day.)
Augmented reality will soon be helping our employees ensure that they are doing their jobs correctly, and will help to improve boat quality. And when 3-D printing evolves beyond prototyping, we will be printing actual finished parts. Simple artificial intelligence applications are being used today in automotive manufacturing and will eventually migrate to boat manufacturing.
These are just a few of the ways technology will affect the boating industry, but there are many more. For instance, at our company we have a team that uses data analytics to ensure that we are focusing on the right information. Our team is also implementing technology to provide daily employee pay, a benefit employees will soon expect from every company. Technology is making us better in many ways.
I am certain that companies in our industry, likely well-known brands, will go out of business in the years ahead because they fail to stay abreast of these and other upcoming changes. However, those who embrace the coming changes will benefit in ways we cannot imagine right now. The changes ahead will create a lot of disruption for our industry, but also will create abundance for those who see the upcoming years as an amazing opportunity. I know we do.
Bill Yeargin is CEO of Correct Craft and author of Education of a CEO.
This article was originally published in the October 2021 issue.