News Article 28/09/2000

Tailor Made System Gives Seafarers User-friendly Back-up

28/09/2000 - Lloyd's List

The ISM Code poses considerable challenges for users and enforcers alike, requiring, as it does, all activities onboard and ashore which in any way relate to safety and pollution prevention be documented and followed by auditable procedures. Furthermore, all relevant communications and records need to be documented and traceable.

In considering this obligation three years ago, Lyras Shipping in London realised that it would be necessary to make use of a computerised ISM support system.

"We realised from the outset, however, that the introduction of such a computerised system on ships would be a waste of effort if we did not take fully into account the shipboard culture," states Nikos Mikelis, director at Lyras Shipping.

"Unlike shore-based personnel, ships' officers rarely consider that record-keeping for the benefit of reporting to the office is an essential part of their job. We realised that any software for use onboard, where crew turnarounds are a fact of life, would not only have to be user-friendly but also easier and better for the person entering the data than any alternative. We would have to make the computer people-literate, rather than train people to be computer-literate."

Such an approach would necessitate a fundamental change in programming philosophy, and a review of available software packages quickly convinced Lyras Shipping that a system to meet their requirements did not exist. With the ISM Code implementation date for phase one ships looming, the company decided to design and commission its own cornputerised system.

Experts from the Institute of Learning Sciences at Northwestern University in Illinois, the world's largest centre for cognitive sciences, assisted in the areas of task analysis and the design of the human-computer interface. Ulysses Systems Ltd, a software company, was contracted to develop the system, and a number of its programmers relocated within Lyras to work alongside "shipping" people.

The effort resulted in the development of Task Assistant. "We successfully, and relatively painlessly, passed the audits for our document of compliance and safety management certificates just before the July 1998 deadline using our new package," remarks Dr Mikelis. "In fact, we believe that this was the first time a shipping company passed its ISM audits using a fully cornputerised system."

The developers realised that their approach had industry-wide applicability and, from the outset, Task Assistant was designed to be adaptable to the safety management procedures and manuals of individual shipping companies. Over the past two years several shipowners have adopted Task Assistant, the latest two being Kuwait Oil Tanker Company (KOTC) and V Ships.

The capabilities of the software package have also received industry-wide recognition. In May this year, Task Assistant won the Seatrade Award 2000 for excellence in the category of innovation, while in March the package was the recipient of the Lloyd's Ship Manager Communications & IT in Shipping 2000 Award for innovation in the application of IT in ship operations.

Central to the success of Task Assistant has been the "task and role-based approach" inherent in the system. Depending on the role of the user, eg. master, chief officer, superintendent or operations manager, and depending on the task upon which they are about to embark, that person is presented with all the relevant information to support them in carrying out that task.

The support information is divided into three categories, ie. relevant references from all applicable manuals, including the company's ISM manual; other relevant information and support tools. Other information encompasses a wide range of related documentation, such as previously filled in forms, communications and standing instructions, whether originating from the office or within the ship.

The support tools section provides the user with immediate access to blank forms and checklists they may have to fill in, as well as to applicable in-house software such as spreadsheets, electronic distance tables, bunker calculators and payroll programs.

"This immediate access to forms allows easy data entry and the smooth build-up of data for analysis of critical information," comments Dave Martin, V Ships' head of information systems. "Our office and sea staff who have used the system have all reported enthusiastically on its ease of use and obvious marine pedigree. Task Assistant is not just a general package tweaked with a few changes in terminology; it is a system tailored for our industry.

Furthermore, the Task Assistant team has been able to demonstrate to V Ships its ability to integrate with other systems."

In a similar vein, Glenn Myers, KOTC fleet information technology coordinator, reports: "Our installation requirement of a management system is unique and Task Assistant provided the control software platform required to construct and integrate our various operating programs.

"The provision of a simple, yet comprehensive software design format allows for system configuration and user training to be completed within a very short time-frame".