Update Sep 2008

How to use software to run a shipping company properly

Shipping companies consistently make the same mistakes
Insurance records show the same errors being made on ships again and again: anchor losses, collisions, groundings, machinery damage and so on.

Commercial losses are also often repeated: lost charters, frustrated sales, damaged reputations, etc.

There are few new and interesting problems. Shipping doesn’t change much. However, collisions and machinery damage occurs more frequently in inexperienced companies. Why do they occur more frequently in companies with inexperienced supervisors or disjointed management? Clearly, management practices affect risk.

Management processes are often flawed
While management writes corporate policy statements, there is rarely an explicit link between the engineman who is starting a generator without checking the oil level, and the corporate procedure or the corporate goals that will fail if the generator is damaged. Links between corporate goals and the processes that affect them need to be well embedded in the consciousness of every employee.

Understanding where the knowledge in the company resides is critical to successful operations

This is what procedure manuals are about. But how do manuals transfer knowledge? Do people open procedure manuals when they are about to start the generator to understand how frequently catastrophic losses to generators occur because of water in oil? Some knowledge needs to be taught just in time while other knowledge needs to be transmitted through endless repetition.
The system must be set up to know the difference.

Understanding how processes affect each other is critical to successful operations
Insured losses and lost ships’ time can be prevented by paying attention to little things like the effect of forecastle ballast tank manhole tightness on a ship’s operation.
Even major commercial failures such as the failure to sell a ship are usually caused by minor and seemingly unconnected process failures. Management systems for shipping need to know about things like this but rarely do.

Anyone involved with the process must be a high stakeholder
There is no doubt that people who feel responsible for a process and identify with its proper execution in all significant respects will be very reliable. This reliability entails that processes are understood in their entirety by stakeholders, including where such processes fit into corporate goals. It also requires that people are selected who like their jobs. This applies equally well to an ancient hunting team as it does to modern corporations.

How can technology help?
The key idea here is about sharing experience and implementing practices refined by experience. But, there are problems that follow:

       a. People often compete with each other within the organisation and do not help each other with experience. A management system must pick up experience as a by-product of normal work - not through extra effort by one person to pass his experience to another.

       b. People often do not remember the right experience at the right time unless they have practiced for years. After a black out, a duty engineer will rarely check the oil before starting another generator. Technology that understands shipping procedures can help with that.

       c. The process of being reminded about what to do or about what has happened in the past, at the right time, is rarely well thought out. The right reminder at the right time is essential to efficient operation. There is a huge challenge in designing timely reminders into processes. Untimely reminders are unreliable and disruptive. Experience is context -based and dynamic. It is a challenge to manage all the elements of experience and provide them to each user at the right time.

If the enterprise software is designed to know all the processes in an enterprise, how they are open to specific opportunities and hazards, how they affect each other, and how they affect corporate goals, the system itself can assist in the coordination of the right information to the right person at the right time.

This is not hard to do. Enterprise systems have to know how things are done in the enterprise -otherwise they are too difficult to use. Few handheld organizers do much more than one function in a way that is convenient. This is because they are based on having many functions, not on having convenient functions that people can use. They are rarely designed with specific users in mind.

A software system must be designed with expertise in solving both the corporate experience delivery problem and in solving the software usability problem. They are basically the same exercise anyway. Software that knows about how shipping works and makes processes more transparent, and thus more efficient, is the key to making a company operate better than its competitors.

Ulysses’ Approach
Task Assistant, with unique Task Orientation, allows users to be presented with only relevant objects and functionalities to their role, their responsibilities, and their position in the myriad of business processes in an enterprise. So a critical manoeuvre like taking fuel or starting a generator however small can be announced to the right stakeholders if it is being done in a risky way. This means that the user does not have to search and find the sequence of functions in the software that his role requires him to complete from a selection of hundreds of irrelevant functions. The system presents only the functions needed, it represents them in the sequence that the user and the job require, it represents the permissions related to the role and the tasks, it presents related messaging, related follow-up functions, etc. Furthermore, it presents this functionality in a seamless way that avoids conscious entry and exit form different applications.

Furthermore, the Task Assistant pre-emptively provides the user with relevant information from other sources in the enterprise that could be relevant to the task at hand. Since the user may not be aware of information contained in the system that may be needed for the execution of a task, the task orientation presents the user with all relevant information at the right time in the execution of the task. For example, a memo may exist which explains that a crewmember, who is about to be repatriated, has a visa restriction in the port/country of call. The task orientation allows the task of repatriation to be accompanied by special notices for specific crewmembers that have been created in other tasks in another part of the organisation.

Pure messaging would never achieve this type of information at the time of need.