News Article 20/08/2006 B

Ulysses seven quarters of growth

20/08/2006 - Digital Ship, August 2006, p.15

Maritime software company Ulysses Systems, which makes products for maintenance, purchasing and document management, reports that total sales for 2005 increased 107 per cent over 2004; 2006 sales up to June 2006 are already 143 per cent more than total 2005 sales, and total 2006 sales are forecast to be 300 per cent growth greater than 2005.

In terms of employees, the company has doubled in size over the past 12 months and now employs around 120 people.

Ulysses has done a large amount of recruitment and training of deployment, support and project management staff over that time.

"We are currently the fastest growing company in our market segment," says sales and marketing VP Martin Nygate.

The company recently opened a new office in Japan, where it has already signed up NYK, MO Shipmanagement,K-Line, Iino Marine Services, Orient Line Co, Kyokuto Shipping Company Ltd, as customers.

New customers since the start of this year Bourbon Offshore, Cardiff Marine Inc, Top Tankers Management Inc, Euronav Shipmanagment, Ionia Shipmanagment, Halkidon Shipping Corporation, Maritime Performances BV and others.
In addition, we have received orders for further licences from Andriaki Shipping SA, Arcadia Shipmanagement, Liquimar Tanker Management, Dioryx Maritime Corporation, and Naftomar Shipping & Trading Co. Ltd.

The software is being used by over 1,000 vessels.

Ulysses believe that its market differentiator is the usability of its software. Whilst every software company claims to have usable software, Ulysses puts together usability tests for clients so they can actually assess it.

Shipowners are encouraged to find out for themselves how fast it is for staff to learn how to use it, how efficient they are using it, and how many mistakes they make, compared to using existing or rival maritime software products, and then calculate what this equates to financially.

"I can say to you unequivocally that every time we have done a benchmarking exercise we have proven conclusively that our software is easier to use and can deliver vastly greater tangible benefits to our customers in comparison with other software packages on the market," says Mr Nygate.

"We are more than happy to benchmark our software at any given time with any of our competitors," he says. "We encourage our prospects to benchmark us."

Shipping companies should not underestimate the importance of making sure they get the right software. "Software is becoming today - one of the most critical components in determining the success and failure of the company," Mr Nygate says.

"One of the shining examples are Tesco or Wal Mart. Their supply chain management system is second to none - because they selected the right software."

"If you look outside the shipping industry - many large companies have gone to the wall because of bad selection of the software" , Mr. Nygate continued.

"What we need to understand here - if selection of technology is relegated to the commodity purchase approach- this is one of the causes of failure. It's a mission critical component of any company today."


Bourbon Offshore
Ulysses'' most recent win was with Bourbon Offshore of Marseilles, which has 130 offshore vessels and 100 vessels on order.

Bourbon will be installing the entire Ulysses suite of maintenance, crewing, purchasing and quality management software on 150 vessels, and its offices around the world.

"They were looking for software as one of the ways of consolidating their management of the fleet," says Mr Nygate.

Bourbon had spent several months evaluating competitive software packages, and only started looking at Ulysses quite late on in the process.

"They were almost ready to go ahead with one of the competitors," says Mr. Nygate. "But once they saw our Task Assistant they stalled the evaluation to enable a further in-depth review."
"We had quite a lot of meetings with them where we demonstrated to them that our software is more than capable of handling their requirements."

"They did a trial in the office with the users in the office who were also mariners. The superintendents evaluated the software from the perspective of the users on the ship."
"There were different levels of evaluation, and we scored on all those levels of evaluation."

"It was very intensive. From the first meeting to the signing of the contract was actually 6 weeks."
"We were there almost every week, with different teams working with them on parts of the evaluation. We basically had to pull out all the stops from our side to get all the right people into Bourbon at their convenience."

Benchmarking
Ulysses sets up a mini-installation at Bourbon with two PCs, one representing a ship PC and one representing the shore PC.

The shipowner selects a series of tasks (or ''script'') it would like to test out, for example making a requisition, or establishing an audit trail of what was done which an oil company inspector would be satisfied with.

Benchmarking scripts are based on the customers most common and most valuable processes across the fleet.

Real office staff then see how easy it is for them to carry out the task using the software, including time taken to learn how to use it.

They can see how efficiently they can work using the software, how many errors slip through, and how many keyboard clicks are required to do the task.

The test can ensure that the software is geared up to the business processes, which the shipping company already has, rather than expecting staff to change their business processes around the software.

Ulysses employs a number of business consultants, whose role is help the shipping company test out different software products, ensuring that the shipowner feels it has made a fair test and made the right choice of software provider.

Shipowners can calculate a price saving for user friendly software, taking into consideration the amount staff are paid, the amount of time it takes them to get familiar with the software, the cost of trainers, the cost of putting together training documents, the speed it takes them to do various tasks using the software, the reduced number of mistakes and the cost of mistakes.

"We encourage customers to benchmark our software against the competitors," says Mr Nygate. "This is the only way to understand the benefits of the software."

Ulysses is currently having its software assessed by a tanker company in Hong Kong.

"They know they need software, they''re not so experienced to know how they go about buying software,"says Mr Nygate. "We are assisting them to make the templates which help them to measure different software products."

"It''s not our sales people working with them, it's our business consultants."

"Looking at it from their perspectives - into how they can evaluate the different packages on the market. We leave it up to them to decide who they want to evaluate."

Tests such as this are also a better way for a shipowner to implement computer systems which help it manage business systems like TMSA and ISM, so they can maximise the tangible benefits the company will get out of it, rather than see software expenditure as part of the cost of compliance.

Addressing the variety of ways users may vary a process is paramount in benchmarking. It is easy to get one process right, it is difficult to get all the variants right so that users can navigate the system as they would prefer. For example during complex decision-making thinking patterns such as risk management.


Complex tasks
Software companies have talked for many years about how software products can unlock small pockets of value, for example if a spares management system tells a shipboard engineer that the part he desperately needs is sitting un-used onboard a ship calling at the same port a few hours before.

The ship gets the part faster, and the shipping company does not need to pay for a new part to be urgently delivered.

But in practise, finding this kind of value out of software requires the software to eliminate complexity, and can only be achieved if the software is very well structured so people can quickly spot things.

"If you could raise a requisition across your fleet, you can see if there''s an important item on the next ship," he says. "But to do that today with semi-manual processes is virtually impossible."


User-centric
Ulysses approach to software has always been about providing specific users with the specific information they need to do their jobs.

"It''s proven to be so effective, even companies like Microsoft are starting to move towards a role/task orientated perspective," says Mr Nygate. "If you look at Vista, you will see there are the beginning of elements of task and role in it."

"It makes so much sense to have it focussed on the individual, on his approach."

Once the contract has been won, the battle only starts the next challenge is to get the company to use it.

"The key to a successful deployment is to have a sponsor and a champion on the customer side, who is totally dedicated to the success of the installation," he says.

"This is an individual who has influence and authority and views the implementation of this as their own project."

"We have had customers in the past - where they bought our software a number of years ago and for some time it didn''t go anywhere. A year and a half later - they nominated a dedicated team and since that team, the implementation has gone extremely successfully, they rolled it out on as many licenses as they can."