UKHO reports rise in costs of digital transformation 

Ministry of Defence unit that produces Admiralty nautical charts warns of cyber risks

Spending on digital transformation, software and hardware has increased costs at the UK Hydrographic Office (UKHO) by £5.3m in 2022/23 as the digitally-focused organisation ended the in-house printing and distribution of nautical charts. 

UKHO, a trading fund owned by the Ministry of Defence, said it was increasingly reliant on contractors to fill specialist technical roles, and rates have jumped by 35% compared with 2021/22. It expects its profits to fall over the next few years due to increasing spending on digital work, although it still made a profit of £22m in the last financial year compared with £25.3m the year before. 

“Our ambitious digital transformation programme is taking longer to enact than planned,” wrote chief executive Peter Sparkes in UKHO’s annual report. “The omnipresent cyber risk, from organised crime and hostile states, has affected several partners this year and has therefore been a key focus for the organisation. We judge the likelihood of a catastrophic attack on the shipping sector will increase in the short to medium term.” 

The year saw the organisation end the printing and distribution of paper charts from its head office in Bridgwater, Somerset, after 84 years, but it continues to support printing on demand by third-party suppliers.

In February, the UKHO reversed a decision to stop producing paper versions altogether by the end of 2026 after feedback from international partners and users. However, it sees the future of such charts as digital. “The UKHO has committed to providing a paper chart service whilst we pursue viable and official digital alternatives,” Stokes wrote. 

UKHO, which traces its history to the late 18th century, said its Admiralty data service is used by 90% of large ships trading internationally and by the Royal Navy, and it is the primary charting authority for 63 coastal states.

It pledged £1.6m of hydrographic equipment and software as well as specialist training to the State Hydrographic Service of Ukraine. It withdrew licences from sanctioned organisations and Russian-flagged vessels, which Sparkes said stopped some from sailing. 

PublicTechnology staff

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