News Article 14/06/2005

Productivity Management Software (Digital Ship, June-July 2005, p.28)

14/06/2005 - Digital Ship, June/July 2005, p.28

AS A NON SHIPPING PERSON working in marine products I have the luxury of being especially naive and questioning all industry practices however well justified or routed in tradition.
However, in true form and in my experience in the marine industry, real world practices hold the truth while logic and technological familiarity only offer a good set of guidelines.
So I always stand to be corrected by actual use patterns and rather look forward to it. Successful design demands feedback from users and continuous refinement.
So what is already here in an industry that uses software selectively and appears somewhat conservative at times?

Data

TMSA is a new development, which will put quite a bit of emphasis on software in the tanker, and LNG sectors.
TMSA has many aspects of ISM, but emphasises continuous improvement as compared to compliance, thus allowing for the potential preferential commercial treatment of tanker operators who score highly. Since it is also designed as a self-assessment scheme it involves indicators of current achievement. This has introduced a renewed drive for Key Performance
Indicators and is causing even more emphasis on software. It is within data- bases that one expects to find externally demonstrable performance indicators.
However the challenge lies not in how to present the Key Performance Indicators, but in how to get users to enter and maintain valid data that leads to these presentations and reports.
It is often the case with sudden new requirements like TMSA that the industry looks to other industries for advice as I have seen recently and previously with ISM. This also seems to be taking place with respect to managing KPI information. However outside the industry, when people think of KPI's they assume there is a rich set of data to mine and from which they can create reports.
In shipping the challenge is still a lot further upstream, in the processes that lead to acquiring the information, as I see it.
So TMSA is not offering a challenge to marine software either in the demand for reports from data bases, in dashboards and dials, or in mathematical methods for trend analysis.
It is instead challenging technology in its further emphasis on the need for easy to deploy easy to use software that helps people collect the data in the first place.
Once this is in hand the next challenge is to help people perform the extra risk management, the extra due diligence and the extra co-ordination and reporting required by TMSA or any such stringent management practices without unnecessarily delaying or confusing users with clerical tasks and reporting.
After this has been achieved the data mining and reporting tools which have always been available at low cost from the generic software industry, will find more use.

Productivity

We believe that computerisation is at a midlife stage in control of process but an embryonic stage in assisting the performance of people in the organisation.
Many tasks performed by people in an office environment are boring and error prone. On ships the tedium and unnecessary preoccupation is even more apparent as the clerical and reporting jobs get in the way of real world operation of the vessels and risk management.
Microsoft Office has helped us write more tidy and presentable letters without needing teams of typists, e-mail has helped us co-ordinate without interrupting each other with phone calls and meetings, while power point, excel, project and others have brought the power of computing to other personal productivity obstacles.
However there is still a huge amount of further scope for improvement of personal productivity.
For example, unless you have been working in the same department for years bow quickly can you retrieve information regarding a previous contract with a particular vendor, a procedure for a task at hand, an outstanding issue at a terminal, an experience with a certain cargo?
Managing shared documents electronically in the enterprise also leaves a lot to be desired: Items like, problem solving discussions, co-ordinating repair down- time, defects diagnosis or other shared discussion items are currently handled by e-mail in most marine enterprises, but e- mail is not a shared document.
You have to then reconcile all the e-mails to draw a conclusive record of the subject matter covered.
No one bothers with this, so the final report neither benefits from the ideas and the discussions leading to it, nor is the final report the working document actually used for the resolution of the issue.
How does this e-mail generated confusion serve to make things clear and within the collaborating team? The promise of collaborative teams linked electronically has been around for years. Those who value their staff''s time and cost will come to realise how much more work is needed to make shared content handling efficient.
Most electronic filing systems are seriously flawed and work well only if you have abject familiarity with them. So how many people do you know who find it a priority to have abject familiarity with your computerised filing system.
Modern software offers us only the search engine to deal with the fallout. Search engines can at best only find what you are actively looking for, not what you may need to reference if you knew how to find it.

This is especially important in large companies with offices in more than one location
For example; what happens to all the concurrent events that may be happening around you while you work on a spares delivery logistical problem? Would you consciously make a search for a delivery experience in a port reported by one of your colleagues in another office?
Would you look to find out \whether a spares delivery postponement is currently imposing an additional technical risk on account of a recently found machinery defect on board?
Flow many searches of this sort do you make per day, and how long does it take you to complete them, and how much concentration does it take?

Microsoft

Many people wonder why Microsoft does not address the issue of performance support in enterprise software. The answer is it could be.
But Microsoft has so far addressed either a software market populated by individuals using personal computers and personal productivity tools, or technology solutions like databases and e-mail servers. They were not, in the past, heavily involved in enterprise business solutions.
Now that Microsoft is getting into enterprise software in a big way ("Project Green" initiative), it is more likely to address these matters.
It should be borne in mind that Microsoft has an urgent need to control the enterprise server as their desktop client business starts to decline in the enterprise. Selling enterprise business solutions and not just technology solutions will become the mainstay of Microsoft's business strategy and it will no doubt seriously influence developments in maritime enterprise software.