Ulysses Systems opens new Singapore Office
SINGAPORE 03 December 2001: Standfirst: If you think that all industries have embraced information technology with open arms, think again. The shipping industry, indeed one of the oldest industries, learns that it needs to buckle the IT belt, or risk lagging behind.
For an industry that has spanned thousands of years, it is easy to think of the shipping industry as one that has benefited from a large degree of stability and consistency. But this stability and consistency can be a double-edged sword: The marine industry is easily considered one of the slowest adopters in its acceptance of information technology.
But one man is convinced that the way to go is to follow in the footsteps of other industries that have embraced information technology. Martin Nygate, Regional Director of Ulysses Systems Inc in Singapore, says that players in the shipping field are relatively conservative in their approach to the adoption of technology. While other industries are reaping the benefits of technology, the shipping industry has missed out on opportunities for improvements in efficiency.
"There is still the prevalent attitude of scepticism as to the benefits and productivity gains that technology can bring to this industry. This has been demonstrated by the recent demise of Setfair, an e-portal specialising in procurement for the marine industry and backed by Inmarsat", he says.
Nygate says Ulysses Systems is at the forefront of providing technology to the shipping industry. The company, headquartered in Livonia, Michigan, has just opened its Asia office in Singapore. Its software, Task Assistant, provides an operating platform on which all of the ship management functions operate. Formed in 1996, the company's clients include giants in the industry around the world such as ExxonMobil and Lyras Shipping.
While other industries such as banking, retail, and manufacturing have embraced technology whole-heartedly, the shipping industry seems to shy from doing anything that attempts to rock the boat. As the American saying goes, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it".
But the reality is that the ship will indeed break if it cannot cope with the numerous challenges facing the industry, says Nygate. Some of the more progressive companies are already realising this.
"Many ship management companies are coming to the realisation that technology can have a significant impact not only on productivity gains in the operations and management, but also in the way companies can access and utilise critical information that currently exists in a static format on paper-based reports", says Nygate.
And indeed there are plenty of such paper-based reports for the ship manager to handle. The documents pertaining to International Safety Management Code (ISMC) a complex system of safety checks - alone involve a thick set of procedures and safety audits.
"Companies have realised that by using the power of information technology they can significantly reduce various elements related to the management and operations of the fleet, as well as conveying these price influences and access to strategic information to their customers, their ship owners", he adds.
One such ship management company is Eurasia International Ltd, based in Hong Kong. With control of a fleet of over 50 vessels, they have recognised technology as a key strategic element to their future success in achieving their corporate goals.
Its vice-president and chief administration officer, Francis Ng, says that innovative strategy is an important marketing tool for it to attract new shipping clients.
"When we approach ship owners as potential customers we have to show what we can do what they cannot do themselves. Either that we can do it better or more cost effectively or both. For example, provide added value and better productivity", says Ng whose company uses Ulysses' technology.
Information technology is no longer the miracle tool exclusive to the more progressive industries such as banking, finance, or retail. The marine industry has also started to play a game of courtship with technology. It is still in the early stages of romance, though, according to Nygate.
"Technology will continue to be adopted by the more progressive and market aware companies, and this will influence the industry as a whole where it is the early adopters of proven IT solutions that become more attractive to their customers.
One must think of technology as a ladder. A ladder that is growing larger every passing day, with more productivity enhancing applications and solutions coming to the market. The longer a company delays getting on to that ladder, the harder it will be to climb to the top", says Nygate.
Already, those who have jumped on board this technology ship are able to show in strong quantitative terms the benefits.
The main hindrance lies in the difficulty of training non-IT-competent workers. Unfortunately, many software products were designed by software engineers, with little input from the user community. This has resulted in software applications that are rich in functionality but poor in the usage of these functions.
This is where Nygate says there is a need to provide technology that understands deeply how the user functions daily in his work.
"One of the key benefits of the Ulysses Systems' approach is a system designed by mariners, for mariners. The unique Task Assistant was designed so that rather than having the user try to understand how to use the computer, the computer understands how the user performs his task and delivers the tools to perform that task in a simple and efficient fashion", adds Nygate.
Access to information and utilisation of that information is becoming crucial to the success of the shipping industry. Ship owners, port authorities, as well as suppliers are all demanding up-to-date and accurate information.
"It is becoming more difficult than ever before to keep up with the insatiable demand for information. A proper system to store and use this information is a prerequisite for any company to meet the demands of the industry in this century", says Nygate.
With its US headquarters in Livonia, Michigan, Ulysses Systems, Inc. is a leading provider of computer products and services. It offers business intelligence solutions to a variety of industries throughout North and South America, Europe and Asia. With about 100 employees worldwide, the company also maintains a European headquarters in London [Ulysses Systems (UK) Limited] and an office in South America. Ulysses Systems recently announced a strategic alliance with Open Text Corporation to integrate Task Assistant ship management software with Open Text''s Livelink web-based collaborative knowledge management system to provide a comprehensive solution for sharing critical shipping information.