Does Software Really Work On Ships?
Why are budgets for software often delayed in the marine industry?
Mariners have little tolerance for things that do not work well at sea, so budgets for maritime software are often justifiably delayed by apprehension as to whether the solution will really work. More IT friendly companies will worry whether the benefit will come along soon enough to justify the financial pain which will be felt immediately.
Return on Investment for software budgets in the marine sector is unclear.
The main reason companies buy software is to that the company complies with its own desired policies and processes and sometimes those dictated by external groups such as owners, charterers, etc.
The other reason is staff productivity especially when a process like scheduling maintenance with spreadsheets, manually distributing performance indicators from vessels, or manually managing a quality system, become visibly laborious and inefficient.
In all these cases, the exact return on investment by replacing the manual methods with well suited software is unclear, so despite the fact that software is believed to help it is not known exactly how much it saves.
So slowness in decision making is quite understandable and in fact we see the same in most emerging economies where proper roads and transport systems are vastly underestimated in their effect on GNP and delayed as a result. Places like Singapore and Shanghai are the exception.
To arrive at the answer as to exactly how much is gained there is a need for a side by side comparison of manual and automated methods. This needs to be done for a large number of processes comparing productivity gains as well as compliance or control related savings, like reduced incidents, better price control etc.
In short, Return On Investment quantification process is too difficult for each potential software buyer in the marine industry to do independently. However there are some shortcuts to arriving at very plausible approximations of ROI figures and these can be very useful indeed. Ulysses would be pleased to discuss an ROI methodology that clients can apply internally which will serve as a good approximation.
But even a software supplier such as Microsoft has few figures to show on productivity gains through the use of Microsoft office, and yet it is probably the largest piece of business in the world.
Buyers of Microsoft office make an initial commitment, without the benefit of a quantitative return on investment analysis, and probably experience enough gains soon after buying, so as to continue to use such personal productivity tools in the office.
Similarly those marine companies who have been traditional leaders in software use, have believed in the potential productivity gains from marine software, or have had the need for more precise process control than other less enthusiastic software users.
The remaining companies, who are not such devout believers, or whose businesses can tolerate manual methods of process control, have some sound arguments so as to delay budget commitments to software.
Software is often more disruptive than the lack of it.
This has been the experience of many companies that either willingly or reluctantly took the early plunge.
Recently, Eurasia Ship Management, a Ulysses customer who has progressively been buying more software from Ulysses, has the following to say on the matter:
"There are various good stand-alone software products available for individual ship management functions and many companies already have such software in use.
However historically there has been less benefit gained from this software, when finally deployed, than was originally anticipated. It has usually taken too long to implement, has been too difficult to use, has required unrealistic training efforts and has finally fallen short of expectations.
As a company that uses advanced Knowledge Management (KM) techniques in ship management to create value for its customers, Eurasia needed an information technology approach, which would go beyond burdening vessels and offices with lots of software applications. We needed a solution that would serve the process of knowledge creation, analysis and dissemination from the ground up, and above all intuitively.
Ulysses'' unique task-based software caught our attention and provided us with the right tool to support the critical ship management operations and implement KM the way we had envisioned. Being the first ship-management company to win the 2003 Hong Kong Management Association Quality Award, Eurasia insisted that there was a meeting of minds with respect to the fundamental understanding of Quality. Ulysses provided this mental connection with Eurasia''s approach to quality; Ulysses'' understanding of quality and desire for continual improvement is second to none. This makes it easier for us to cater for the ever-increasing needs of our customers and enables us to often exceed their expectations.
With Ulysses we feel secure that knowledge is not only collected and stored effortlessly but also disseminated seamlessly and accurately across the various users for analysis and action. The customary user resistance to new software is eliminated because users can quickly see that Ulysses produces software that works. It is simple to use, yet sophisticated in its ability to create real value."
At Ulysses we have taken a major step in a direction taken by no other business software company:
We believe that software should be so simple to use that multi tasking users like masters, chief engineers, superintendents, fleet managers, and other senior staff can practically
"walk up and use the software the first time they see it".
This overcomes the most persistent and justifiable apprehension, which is related to whether the software will work in the first place.
Having established that mariners and multi-tasking managers on board and ashore will be able to easily use the software, it lays the ground for better enterprise results, which may be difficult to quantify exactly, but are certainly easy enough to approximate.
Other considerations such as software purchase price do play a part in budget allocation.
Off the shelf software in the marine field still offers a far quicker return on investment than off the shelf domain specific software in other industries.
As to direct price comparisons with other regular marine purchases, for most companies with non-specialized requirements, Ulysses software will be cheaper than a cosmetic coat of paint on the topsides of the vessel, or some assorted carpentry work needed for ISPS compliance. Compare that to failing a quality audit or a vetting inspection, or worse still finding out during an incident investigation that the processes you thought were in hand were actually very different in practice.