News Article 15/02/2007 A

System addicts?(Ship Management International, Issue 5, Jan /Feb 2007, p 88-91)

fer to stick to tried and tested managerial routines, adhering to paper heavy, fax and phone-dependent systems.

Which, of course, is utter poppycock. While it is true that, even as recently as five years ago, a significant number of ship managers were undoubtedly wary about committing to new technologies, this relative reluctance hardly warrants the application of the'' conservative'' tag to shipping. Indeed, given the manner in which the predicted upsurge of ''dot.com'' businesses imploded at the turn of the millennium, few companies could be blamed for inoculating themselves against promises of quick-fix electronic solutions - or, as Columbia Ship management managing director Dirk Fry once memorably put it, wildly inaccurate sales pitches claiming to offer IT as "a panacea for all ills".
ing considered product purchases or even developing their own in-house systems. While these systems may not always be necessary for some fleets, as we shall see, some users have reaped real value from these tools, particularly in assisting with processes such as risk management and regulatory compliance - not to mention benchmarking and cost-cutting.

tive when it comes to embracing technology onboard their ship. It is becoming a necessity, he claimed, for shipping companies to embrace new technology if they are to be able to "push and to pull" data from ship to shore on systems that should there be a conflict in the onboard computer systems, can be up and running very quickly afterwards.

"We have spent a lot of time and energy in shrinking everything to ensure we can move data back and forth. The biggest task facing owners and managers is dealing with the vast amounts of proprietary software that is available because the biggest question is who will be there tomorrow. That is why our systems are built alongside Microsoft Dynamics and SharePoint. If people need support, they know they can secure it worldwide," he added.

Crew shortage concerns
According to Mare International chairman and chief executive Emmanuel Papalexis, nearly 2,500 new vessels are scheduled to enter the global fleet between now and 2010 - an upswing predicted to result in a shortfall of 10,000 officers and as many as 60,000 ratings. Clearly this places an incredible amount of pressure on ship managers, and increases the need to adopt viable solutions to cut their workloads, while staying abreast of regulatory developments, especially in the fields of safety and security.

"The speed of information change is becoming even more critical," opines Warwick Norman, chief executive of Rightship, whose vetting management tool covers over 50,000 vessels, and is used by a 60-strong external customer base comprising charterers and insurers. "Shipowners and managers are particularly focused on the benefits of understanding how risk is assessed by charterers, tracking vessel performance and ensuring vessels are in the best position to be accepted by shippers with a minimum of fuss and delay.
"Shippers are demanding increasing speed and reliability: managers who do not have systems to respond immediately to charterers'' queries will find their vessels missing out on profitable rates."
dures specific to that vessel."

agement efficiency, and as a differentiating factor among competitors."

sion making by management ashore and officers onboard".
Singapore-based Teledata has witnessed an upturn in demand for systems across the European and Asian-Pacific markets and added 15 shipping customers to its roster in 2006. "Managing a fleet is about taking effective and quick decisions," Capt Joshi tells SMI. "However these decisions need to be based on credible and actionable information. If the right information can't be madeavailable to the right peson at the right time, the decision is likely to be based on an assumption. And it is these assumption-based decisions that often lead to instances of efficiency leakage."

Integrated information
While officer shortage remains one of the most critical factors to influence ship managers'' decisions to opt for electronic management systems, the increase in mandatory ship and seafarer documentation, resulting from requirements spanning OPA 90 to the ISPS Code, also plays a part. John Veson, president of US-based Veson Nautical, believes that these systems prove their worth when used to create a "central repository" for document management.. To this end, Veson Nautical's Integrated Maritime Operations System (IMOS) managed to attract 30 new customers in 2006, including Stolt Nielsen and Neste Oil.
ment system specialist BASS, which currently counts 90 shipping and ship management companies among its customers.
tomers are seeking the ability to control their financials."
tomers such as Top Tankers Management, lonia Management and Euronav Shipmanagement, smaller software developers are also getting in on the act, particularly in localised and niche markets. Step forward Peter Guenther, director maritime, SOFTimpact, which, although active in Cyprus since 1998, only last year began to sell marine software and services, gaining three customers by the beginning of 2007.
"If I should say it in one word, [ship managers ''] focus is on data ownership," Capt Guenther stresses. "He wants to get the information wants, to generate himself the report he needs." This includes the ability to generate even the most unique and complex reports on an ad hoc basis. "Instead of being burdened with error-prone and boring administrational jobs, his staff should have more time to concentrate on important strategical issues and real decision making. The look and feel of his software must be familiar and easy to learn".

Training becoming easier
agement software developers make for their products, none can override the most important opinion of all - that of the ship manager himself. The user experience is considered the most critical issue," he adds.
There is no generic ''quick fix'' solution, but rather the system must support the manager's personal and unique planning and decision making processes.
Before making a snap decision- all too often based on price alone- regarding which solution to acquire, users should carefully consider what they want out of a management system. Returning to the initial reluctance of some managers to commit to electronic solutions, the good news according to Mr. Veson, is that those who hedged to investigate the potential of ship management solutions, have not missed out by not taking the technological plunge earlier.
"Definitely, there is a large number of companies ready to implement the technology, that had been somewhat apprehensive earlier", he says. Actually, waiting until now to select a commercial shipmanagement system has proven beneficial, as these (ship managers) now have access to software that is more mature, less costly and easier to use.
"There will always be a resistance, but I would highlight the fact that there are now good options to choose from. In terms of training and user friendliness, the straightforward interfaces in the browser and today's electronic tutorials make it easier to install these systems". As a result, he concludes, system training- often cited by time conscious managers as a hindrance to the day-to-day running of the fleet on strtched manpower and budget- has become "much less of an issue".


But do you need it?

There are still ship managers yet to be won over to the case for management software. For some, the short-term cost outlay involved in purchasing and installing systems outweighs the promised long term benefits. Rightship's Mr Norman counters: the money side is probably the least concern - or should be. If you are shipping a cargo worth millions of dollars, then it doesn't make commercial sense not to spend a relatively small amount to get the best information about ship quality and marine risk. Ship managers should consider how the right vetting system can help them overcome issues and minimize delay in the vessel selection process, and achieve significant financial benefits".

But Capt Guenther argues that reluctance to adopt specialized technological solutions does not automatically make a ship manager ''wrong'' or - dare we broach the word again? -conservative. A lot of small shipowners and managers don't need a fully-fledged management system at all," he says. "With a handful of ships, you are well off with Excel. I recommend that the small operators who are managing a couple of ships use straightforward applications, such as the MS Office family - do not forget that the normal user is only using 5%, if that, of the functionality of Word and Excel. However, from a certain size on - I would say 20 vessels upwards - ship management systems will increase productivity, provided the requirement analysis and implementation process is done professionally."

tems which are not actually much more than kind of ''homemade'' data base applications, with minimum functionality."
It should go without saying, Capt Guenther adds, that the best way to avoid being stung is to establish close communications and engage with vendors and developers - even if this process does take time.
Haakon Dalan, general manager for product management and consulting at BASS, comments: "Ship managers should look for a provider which understands the unique challenges which face the maritime industry - just because it works on land doesn't mean it will work at sea. Second, ship managers should look for a solution built on a future proof technology, not one built on a redundant platform, which can be expensive and complex to upgrade."

Tools you can trust
tech chainsaw on the market, only to leave it dormant the year round in a garden shed, so the successful gains to be realised by incorporating management software depends on the manager's attitude and ability to implement an adequate framework for constant usage.
ting off some otherwise curious managers. Again, though, the most crucial factor needs to be emphasised; these systems are meant to serve you. Training can be adapted to suit your company''s needs, just as any respected vendor, such as those featured above, should be happy to tailor make solutions to fit your specific daily requirements. Dialogue with the manufacturers and of these systems is key, as is a sense of trust between both parties, as George Frydas, managing director of Greece-based Fortune Technologies, highlights: "When you invest in a major business solution, you need to know that the company behind it will be there to take care of you."

ping industry finds itself realising gains from these systems by 2012, why trail behind your competitors when your own, unique style of vessel management could be made streamlined, simpler and more cost-effective? .