News Article 20/02/2006 A

Monitoring shipboard management ashore

Fairplay Solutions, February 2006, p.16-18

Taking into account the recent advances in improving satellite bandwidth connectivity for ocean going vessels, it is believed that the near future vessels will be connected ''almost online'' to the head office ashore in almost the same manner that stores, factories and warehouses of any land based corporation are connected online today. Yes seafarers, big brother could soon be watching your every move, as the world's fleet look set to have the same level of IT connectivity as the rest of the land-base industries. Worldwide coverage is also expanding at a rate, which makes the whole communication area more practical for real time information sharing resulting in the streamlining of operations.

Paul Ostergaard, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, ShipServ, believes that in three years the majority of shipping Companies with more than ten vessels will be managing their ship supplies electronically, including interacting electronically with their suppliers. By the end of this decade, most shipping companies will be transacting electronically with all their trade partners. "The future requires successful companies operate in a flexible, alert and efficient manner to strengthen their market positions and meet the growing global competition", says Lone Jenson, marketing Co-ordinator, ShipServ.

"The vast implications of this forthcoming change and profound improvements in efficiency and speed of operations" says Dr. Panagiotis Nomikos, Businees Development Director, Danaos Management Consultants. Danaos is the only Maritime Software provider who has tested vigorously its onboard systems via broadband vessel connections in several vessels over the past two years. Those vessels are operating the software in always-on connections, like any other land-based network node.

As yet, not all ship managers have succumbed to purchasing shipboard management systems but as the costs come down they will no doubt find them much more attractive as they come under increasing pressure from demands and requirements as set by IMS, ISPS, TMSA and the classification bodies to name but a few. "The Maritime Industry is growing rapidly in terms of use of information technology and it is only a matter of time until all ships have state of the art systems on board providing operational efficiency and safety at sea," believes Per Steiner Upsaker, Manageing Director, Bass who see the future are bright for shipboard management systems.
BASS applications systems have been used since 1997. "We started of our system being built on Visual Basicand our database on Oracle and SQL Server," says Upsaker. The company have made a significant step forward since 2003 in re-development of their product suite into the Microsoft.Net platform, a robust, reliable and future-proof technologiacal platform for software development. "For Document management, safety/quality management and accident/incident reporting-.Net development is now well on its way to provide customers with ''state-of-art'' applications," adds Upsaker.

One such happy customer is Dampskibsselskabet Torm. "SAFIR 4.0 enables us to establish, define and track actions related to enhancements of safety and quality on board our ships," says Per Winther Christensen, Safety and Quality Manager of the Danish Company. SAFIR 4.0 is a strong reporting and analyses tool that complies with the requirements of section 9 of the ISM Code and supports the implementation and maintenance of the ISPS Code, ISO 9000 and ISO 14000 systems.
BASS provide an intelligent and robust ship-shore replication mechanism, which synchronises the shipboard databases with the office database. The communication costs are low- as only the data- changes are transmitted, even for procedural changes in documents ashore/ onboard. Additionally, the in-built auto-scheduling and auto-recovery functions of the ship-shore replication-enable seafarers and office staff to stay in synch and work ''real-time'' without spending time on ship-shore monitoring and trouble-shooting.
So have faster, cheaper communications helped the development of shipboard management systems?

It a long-term benefit and a short-term obstacle believes Capt. Michalis Hatzimanolis, Marine Expert, Marketing and Pre-Sales, Ulysses Systems. "Cheap communications initially results in unstructured communication and communication overload." With added structure, cheaper communications result in more precise coordination, performance support and transparency. Shipboard management systems have benefited from cheaper communications but since communication is so much cheaper in land based industries; the adoption of shipboard software is still impended by the discontinuous nature of communications.

Nonetheless with all this talk of being ''permanently connected'' between ship and shore the question, which all seafarers must be speculating about, is just how controlling will Big Brother turn out to be when he's keeping a close eye on operations? As communications have improved over the years, many masters have already voiced their annoyance at, what they perceive to be an increasing interference from the office, which they state, undermines their professionalism to do the job that they trained for. It remains to be seen whether this increased state of monitoring will worsen the situation.