Update Jun 2005

What do you need in way of Research Development (R&D) For your marine software

PART A

Adapting Software industry waves of innovation
Like any industry in the midst of its greatest rate period of development, the software industry comes up with important sweeping innovations every so often. This creates a tidal wave of change every few years. PC''s, the Internet, processors, memory chips etc have given rise to tremendous changes in generic across industry software platforms. Software vendors take these sweeping underlying platform developments and apply them to the different industries they service. There is no doubt that this evolution will continue, especially in the marine industry where some of the underlying innovations introduce much new value.

PART B

Adding features to satisfy customer needs to control process
Adding features is the most common type of product development. However, this is most valuable when it can be proven that the features succeed in refining a process or improving control. A sign of a good development program for improving marine industry features is a profile of process prioritisation that illustrates which processes control the most critical bottom line issues and which processes are the most resource intensive to carry out. This evaluation requires industry expertise and focus.

However there is sometimes confusion about the true need for the latest features.

Many software users resist upgrading for example their Microsoft Office platforms because they fear that the costs for upgrading and for familiarisation on the new features are not justified, because these users use only a fraction of the features available and are satisfied with the current software.

This however applies only to platforms like Microsoft with millions of users with huge R&D budgets. Here features are added to satisfy such a broad spectrum of requirements that for many users the improvements are unnecessary or irrelevant. However in industry specific applications this is not the case. The restricted size of a dedicated industry software market makes features improvements far less extensive and far more essential to the average user.

Making the software more suitable for the job
Continuous process study and refinement is essential in making software products more user friendly and better suited to the job at hand. One of the two main constituents of satisfying usability is the closeness with which the process within the software matches the real world business process in the flow of events and actions with which the user expects to interact. The closer the match the less the user has to concentrate on system handling and the more he or she can concentrate on business. Dedicated industry expertise is essential in achieving this, as is the ability to present users with only those processes applicable to their role and tasks. The former indicates that industry dedication can never be overlooked while the latter requires a platform that presents the right feature to the right person at the right time and not all the features to all the roles, which would require users to navigate between dozens of similar functional features.

Making users perform better
There is no end to how human performance can be continuously improved by any tool that closely follows peoples working patterns. This is most obviously illustrated in tools that are a matter of life or death like surgical tools and military tools. However tools that interact with people’s thinking process are even more critical to people’s performance because they address a much larger variety of processes. Today computers interact with humans from basic calculation and spelling, to transaction management, diagnosis, process mapping, reminding, etc.

Although both surgical and military tools of obsolete technology can perform adequately when in the hands of expert and dedicated users, on the other hand the value of R&D and advancing technology is manifested in the importance placed by the industry on the productivity of individuals.

Where productivity is critical R&D pays off. In ship management where productivity is one of the key constituents, ergonomics is a bottom line matter and a substantial percentage of gross revenue.

The area of general ergonomics in software design offers vast potential for improvement. While at the same time, the nature of the marine industry makes it a leader in its requirement of ergonomics, and not a follower of other industries.

For example:
A superintendent who performs a vast array of functions concurrently and co-ordinates with teams in different countries and aboard vessels often in different time zones, has such vast requirements of ergonomics that he must avoid the use of unrefined software so as not to interrupt his performance. For example, crew technical familiarisation tasks, purchase approval tasks, service expediting tasks, defects motoring tasks, defects diagnosis tasks, travel co-ordination tasks, goods procurement co-ordination tasks, etc, all have very high requirements of ergonomics if the software is going to be of any use.

PART C: Ulysses's R&D budgets

How do you justify R&D budgets?
R&D budgets are justified through greater sales revenue and a larger customer base. A software provider needs to be able to justify R&D with sales. The best way to verify the R&D budget and its justification is to observe the regularity and nature of improvements and the degree of the R&D budget through sales.

Ulysses generation of R&D budgets:
As Ulysses Systems is continuously enlarging the customer base the R&D budget is respectively affected. This enlargement is due to the proliferation of our existing client’s published appreciation of the products and services in a variety of mediums such as testimonials and referencing which in turn are accumulated through the constant and correct allocation of revenue into R&D.

Customer's thoughts on Ulysses''R&D allocation:
Eurasia says: "Task assistant discards traditional design principles, which force the user to search for information, and achieves tremendous productivity through its task-based user interface. The role and task based design of the system allows much closer and easier scrutiny of risk with respect to the task of each company member".

Golar Management says: "The only software concept that works in shipping…By the intuitive design of its Task Assistant, Ulysses makes complicated functionality accessible for the first time user and speeds interrogation and monitoring of the whole PMS".

Iino Marine Services Co., Ltd., says: "The fact that TA requires no special training is so important to us - it makes life easier for our seafarers and saves time and money".

Chellaram Shipping says: "It is clear that the Task Assistant is designed in keeping practical user requirements as the primary focus… We chose the product as a means for improving the ease of usage and enhancing familiarity".