Update May 2007

User convenience and the protection against liabilities

Intensity results in occasional omissions
A Master of a vessel that has left a port in Venezuela is shortly arriving in a US Gulf port: Will the master be familiar with all local inspection practices, terminal experience, or the ship''s latest technical issues that could effect inspections?

During this short voyage can the master rely on backup from the office for items he may not be familiar with? When one of the ships in your fleet is occupying you with a technical problem, how likely are you to remember to send to the master all the items he may overlook, such as previous coast guard inspection reports, special cargo experience notices, and technical issue updates that may effect inspections, etc?

There is no doubt that if you are concentrating on one area intensely something may slip by in another. But our industry is not very forgiving. Minor overlooked items can affect terminal relationships and immediately affect clearances for future business. Worse still, an improperly managed defect discovered by the coast guard can begin a long and expensive process with the coast guard.

Can you rely on people to consciously look for these warnings, to know that any warnings exist to begin with, or even to know the appropriate document titles?

What is the difference between shipping and the other industries?
The marine industry is often viewed as lagging behind the other software industries with respect to technological advancements. However the unique challenges and demands facing the marine industry can in some cases pave the way for innovations needed in all industries and pioneered in the shipping industry. For example, almost every business currently relies on email as a primary form of communication, but there is very little control as to what information exists in company servers. This insufficiency of content control wastes time, and causes important information to be difficult to locate. More importantly, data control can create big problems with respect to liability for any company in any industry, as we have experienced in some well-publicized legal cases where stray e-mails divulged privileged information. The problem of criminalization of maritime staffs with ships that constantly sail from one legal jurisdiction to the next is even more acute. Crews are confronted with the unique practices and legal liabilities that are specific to each destination without the benefit of any political leverage to mitigate their exposure. Moreover, the shipping industry is especially vulnerable to third party mass liability litigation, and one significant way to protect ourselves against danger is to keep control of the information we exchange within the organization, which might be included in discovery.

In addition to acute legal concerns surrounding documentation, land based companies maintain a significant support staff in order to manage applications for senior managers who have other important responsibilities which require their full attention. In the banking world, for example, bank managers have a large staff to operate the transaction tracking systems that keep them in business. Masters and chief engineers, on the other hand, do not have the luxury of administrative staffs on a ship, which means that they manage this information themselves. However, it is unreasonable to expect senior managers to operate land based software products designed for support staff. Furthermore, in order to make communication manageable, structured, and unhampered by potential liabilities, it requires significant memorization of all the different document types and indexing conventions. Mix in a high level of staff turnover, and you have an impossible situation.

The requirement on board is to record data proving due diligence, combined with closer monitoring of process from ashore. This has been vastly increased by TMSA, which is really a customer driven focus on the ISM code. Masters , Chief Engineers and multi tasking shore staff should waste as little of their valuable time as possible on filing, retrieval, data entry and other routine data management, while keeping themselves informed directly rather than through data management staff.

To control information the company needs a document management system
Just as to control traffic in a city one needs a system of vehicle registration and a network of roads and traffic routing, likewise to control internal communications a company needs a network of routed and controlled communication systems for each important subject. This keeps important information visible and controlled so that information outside this network can safely be discarded. But any such system of communication conventions must achieve its goals of controlling information without compromising convenience.

People onboard need convenient applications to record their work and comply with regulations

Systems must have the capacity to collect and record all relevant data, but as the marine industry has demonstrated time and time again, people cannot be bullied and trained to report. Ships experience high crew turnovers, are remotely located, and are run by multi-tasking managers who cannot spend their days supervising members of the crew to ensure they accurately record their work and comply with regulations. Moreover, no senior manager in any industry can be expected to learn two or three complicated applications in order to carry out his job, so why do we demand that of a captain or chief officer?

The distribution of important corporate information must be as close to automatic as possible. It is critical that all relevant information is provided to the user at the appropriate time, with minimal requirements for circulation by the end user. Rather than simply alert a user when a message is received, operating systems must present the information to a user when it is relevant to the task at hand. It is a mistake to assume that a user will know where to find the appropriate information, or even that he is aware of its existence in the first place. Our experience tells us that people are not likely to rummage through records without knowing if there is anything there of value to the current activity. In this regard, critical corporate information is often overlooked because it is difficult to find or unknown to the user.

Task Assistant caters the needs of multi-tasking onboard and shore based staff
At Ulysses our focus is to produce software that caters to the needs of an onboard staff and multi-tasking shore based staff. In order to facilitate this work, our methods manage communications and data in a way that avoids complications and setbacks that can cripple a business. We seek to accomplish this by providing employees with the information they need, at the time they need it, and in a context appropriate to the task at hand. Our software is designed with an eye toward the future where industries and their senior managers will rely less on an extensive support staff and more on smart software that will enhance their performance through easy and reliable access and control of critical information.

Unlike other applications Task Assistant (TA) "Knows" from a business standpoint what the company and each user does. By knowing what the user is doing, Task Assistant anticipates what the user needs in order to achieve the current task, and what steps the user is likely to need to take next step. It also knows what other users may be doing and can present the user with coordinating information.
The Task Assistant contains a model of all the tasks in a maritime organisation. Task Assistant systematically separates all company processes and utilises the model to index all relevant information including SMS instructions, memos, circulars, forms and reports and relates them to the processes they affect. So Task Assistant can be useful in many circumstances as:

  • When a user is about to incur a risk for which warnings and experience already exist in the company, but the current user, due to turnover or other coordination problems, is not prompted to even search for such a warning.
  • When discussion items need to be disseminated and indexed for future use, but there is no workable way to organize the information to ensure that it will be readily available when the occasion arises.
  • When a series of tasks require completion under time-pressured multi-tasking conditions where there is no time to execute searches for the relevant documents for each job. A prime example where these conditions are present is a port departure.
  • When the consequences of critical information loss are onerous. For example, when operating machinery without the benefit of prior knowledge as to any potential problem areas.
  • When the consequences of time lost in retrieving and channeling information have significantly adverse effects on process efficiency. For example, delays when responding to the many communications which we receive each day, especially for those who work ashore.
  • When there are easily identifiable consequences stemming from the wasteful preoccupation of users with searches and filing. For example, in the decision-making process.
  • When peoples'' job descriptions or locations are changing and there is a need to reroute information.
  • Above all, the Task Assistant can help store and deliver company experience without slowing down the organisation through inefficient and incessant meetings.