"Ulysses invites shipowners to set out on a voyage of cost recovery"
19/01/2004 - Lloyd's List
BE SUSPICIOUS of anything that claims to save you time and money.That is the salutory lesson of the IT explosion of the past few years. Everyone promised it and almost everyone failed to deliver.Ulysses Systems is far from being a dotcom company but that is its proposition, though one based more on experience than pipe dreams.
Always the quiet man among software providers, Ulysses recently decided to hit people where their brains are.And Advisor to the Board Dimitris Lyras reckons that implementing Ulysses' Task Assistant ship management system could save the owner of a medium-sized fleet as much as $85,000 per ship each year against a per-ship implementation cost of about $3,800.
Areas of potential saving include messaging, insured and uninsured losses, system familiarisation and supervision, vetting, co-ordination and regulatory compliance.
But what makes him so confident that he can deliver on these promises?
"The experience of clients using the document management system is well substantiated," he explains. "We have methodology to estimate how much it costs to chase around the information you don't have."
He accepts that for operators running different fleets the issues and extents will naturally vary, but says the theory is sound.
There is a grey area between information and implementation and that is a niche that Mr Lyras believes is filled by Task Assistant.
"It is our experience that people usually pay out insurance claims because they had the wrong information."
All fine and good, though the recent past shows that resistance to technology is still a natural barrier to adoption.
"If it is ergonomic it gets used," says Mr Lyras. "People need to want to use it.
"In the "old days" it was a question of a master getting on the radio and discussing things. This was a bit ad hoc but it was effective.
"The problem with most computers is they make clerks out of managers." Mr Lyras would not choose off-the-shelf software for shipmanagement but has sympathy for those that do.
"It is a question of priorities," he adds.
But surely such a feature-rich system requires taking people offline to train them properly?
Director Panteleimon Pantelis pads off to fetch his laptop while Mr Lyras asks whether I have shipboard experience.
Two days on the Earl of Romney don't really count, but luckily I quickly grasp the principles.
"There is no offtime because the system is designed around tasks that the master has to perform," explains Mr Pantelis.
Instead of a manual-based, topic approach, the system is organised task-by-task with components linked to each other.
"You could say we boiled off the manual and built the tasks around workflow," adds Mr Lyras. "The handover to clients usually takes about an hour depending on the company's size."
Crucial tasks include a narrative element that is seldom found in manuals. "Manuals are procedure, not information," he points out.
"It tells a story and there is no conflict with operations because all the information is available to anyone when they need it."
The system is pre-configured to clients' operations but the pair point out that after six million years of evolution man has only just moved on from writing on paper.
"You cannot train the brain to look for documents. It is better to show tasks, flag unread messages, work around the task," says Mr Pantelis.
"It fills up with data as you use it, so the more you use it the more useful it becomes."
Ease of use is a recurring theme that we cannot steer away from. "The only comments we get are about content, never about functionality," says Mr Pantelis. "There are very few usability issues."
For a two-ship fleet implementation might creep up to $10,000 but, with greater numbers, the benefits in terms of co-ordination, turnover and regulatory compliance come into their own.
"Even in a big company there are no more people being employed, no new roles being created," says Mr Lyras.
"Crews and superintendents are becoming more specialised."
Ulysses is conventional in one sense that its clients have tended toward the more innovative end of shipping.
"The more technical they are tends to make a difference," he adds. "They tend to lead the pack. They have sympathy for paperwork but want to get away from it."
Reproduced by kind permission of Lloyd's List