News Article 03/02/2010

Ulysses Systems Task Assistant has succeeded in saving costs & customer satisfaction ( ELNAVI, February 2010, p.48-49)

Since 1996 Ulysses Systems has provided management solutions to ship-owners and ship managers. Its award winning software, Task Assistant® enables both office and seagoing personnel to work more efficiently and effectively. Task Assistant® is intuitive software designed to require minimal training. Managers should expect savings in the order of $90,000 per vessel per year purely from minimizing information gaps.Ulysses has offices in the London, Piraeus, India, and Singapore

“Shipping, being a service and risk management intense industry, involves people at a senior level adjusting to differing circumstances in order to manage them” says Panteleimon Pantelis, Services Director of Ulysses Systems. Mr. Panteleimon believes that “the introduction of software must improve efficiency of process and human performance. Shipping software is normally the most extensive functional entity to be used within a shipping enterprise. It is a toolset for performance improvement of individuals as well as a process enabler for the enterprise. The vast variety of benefits and costs associated with software and the fast moving technological foundation of enterprise software makes it one of the most onerous procurement decisions in any enterprise. The decision to procure software can be made simple if the proper methodology is used.

The methodology herein is a business methodology and incorporates in its constituents all the technological enablers, which of course also require to be considered. However technological enablers need only be considered after weighting through their relevance to the core business considerations.

Mr. Pantelis refers to Ulysses basic suite of programs features and benefits. “Ulysses unique Task Oriented Architecture provides software that is intuitive and makes information uniquely accessible to the user by matching its navigational layout to the way each role/user thinks through a process. This increases the performance of users in every aspect of information handling, saves multi tasking employees valuable time, which has proved to be by far the most draining in software lifecycle costs, while offering ever increasing process control.

The way people handle risk is the essence of management quality and a test for any system. Reporting, thanks to Ulysses Task Orientation, allows for rich indexing of the items circulated within the system at no extra effort from the user. Thus the system provides decision support by timely information that finds the user, no searches, and no time-consuming questionnaires to fill-out, just common sense. This makes it very easy to string together the actions following a need for a decision and to monitor internally how decisions regarding risk are made thereby allowing the company to progressively monitor and improve their own decision making processes.

The full suite of enterprise software comprising of Document Management, Planned Maintenance, Purchasing, Technical and Operational Reporting, and Crewing is highly configurable and flexible. It eschews the rigidity of conventional systems which all too often put pressure on users to adapt their thinking to the navigational layout of the product.

The convenience assured by Task Orientation makes it possible to continuously improve decision making without bureaucracy.”

He also comments on Ulysses benchmarking services and KPIs control. “Ulysses provides benchmarking and KPI control, that monitors Quality Assurance. In shipping as in most industries Quality Assurance is still primarily associated with compliance and certification. However TMSA, and especially chapter 12 (with its focus on comparisons between internal and external audits) incites us to rethink whether documents and statistics are good business indicators. The comparison certainly helps oil companies keep track of whether the company monitors its own operation more closely than external inspectors and auditors.

But what is the point of this?

The point no doubt is to compare internal with external assessments and determine the quality of common sense management practices: whether internal quality controls exceed external controls, in which management areas undesired events occur, where to focus next in the continuous improvement process, etc.

But the problem is that internal and external audits may cover different areas of focus and certainly external inspections all differ between them.

By combining reports can we eventually determine whether the ships inspected are managed well and their hardware is in the right condition? Of course any qualified shipping professional can do this by reading the reports and making a qualitative assessment. But a quantitative assessment with statistical analysis can be highly misleading.

In order for it not to be so, not only do the audit data categories need to be matched but they also have to group nicely into more general categories that are meaningful in the context of assessing management quality. So while the categories have to fit common fine-grained criteria, they also have to group well with respect to problem categories or processes or even corporate goals.

In the information age, the information collection problem having been solved, what we now need is to solve the information categorization problem. Never was this more relevant than today when the obstacle of access to information is behind us.

At Ulysses we have built a model within our software that makes it easy to apply the right categories to data without burdening the user with huge lists of potentially relevant criteria that take more time to record than it is worth. Thus CDI, SIRE, Port State and internal inspection findings can be categorized by staff onboard and ashore as a by-product of their reporting allowing for meaningful management conclusions to be drawn thereby satisfying the goal set by TMSA chapter 12.”

He also explains the benefits from the software development of proactive safety culture and near miss reporting systems. “The benefits arising from the adoption of a well-written system can be divided in two categories: those of efficiency and those of prevention. Like any good solution it must either increase efficiency of the people involved or improve a process or both.

Man hours saved from the retrieval of timely and relevant information by people who need it most is an example of efficiency while the avoidance of costly errors such as loosing anchor in an anchorage that has been reported as risky before in the system, or penalties due to mishandlings during local inspection practices, constitute examples of prevention.

An ergonomic system can be an extension of the officers own experience on board providing vessel specific experience combined with prior corporate experiences and applying them to the contemporary issues the organization is facing.

The more instinctive the interaction with the system, the more man hours and thus the more money is saved. The more relevant the information is, the more likely it is for crew members to prevent incidents and inefficiencies.

Like an ergonomic mobile phone it will end up being used more and containing more useful information, thus helping get more things done in a day. In addition an ergonomic system will coordinate past experience with current action and save money.

So what would be the bottom line advantages of better information distribution?

  •  Earlier risk assessment and a better chance of managing risk more cost effectively;
  • Better preparation before performing critical operations where sub-optimal procedural variations can cost a lot of money;
  •  Prevention of incidents arising from uninformed areas in the organisation;
  • Lowering costs by having less people minding paperwork and putting more attention on optimizing spending and operation;
  •  Faster vetting approval on tankers and less time with sub-optimal approvals;
  •  Far better internal compliance with new cost and efficiency policies and procedures.

In Ulysses our target is to use information to support human performance and demonstrable competence without building bureaucracy.

As far as Ulysses activities during 2009 Mr. Panteleimon notes: “2009 was a successful year for Ulysses Systems seeing the addition of new companies Navigia Shipmangement BV (The Netherlands), Ceres LNG Management (Greece), Miverva Maritime S.A (Greece), Northern Marine Management Deutschland Gmbh & Co (Germany), Orion Bulkers Gmbh & Co. Kg (Germany),Graneis Do Brasil Maritima (Brazil), Omega Management Inc. (Greece), J.G Roussos Shipping S.A (Greece) as Ulysses clients. Task Assistant has proved that it succeeds in saving costs, as attested to by major ship-owners and ship managers who have no tolerance for money spent on productivity tools that do not work.

The Task Assistant differs from any other software in a single important way. The structure in which all the information increments reside is very rich but follows common sense. So each piece of information requires less work to place in this structure, and less work to find.

Planned Maintenance and Purchasing cost about 4000 US dollars per year per vessel for license, maintenance and data population. This is about 11 US dollars per day per ship which is almost equal with 11 minutes of a chief engineer’s or a master’s working hours. If we now consider that four senior officers on board and one ashore work with the system exchanging about 25 transactions per day, it is more than likely that 25 transactions executed efficiently will save a lot more than 11 minutes shared among 5 senior roles. So it’s certainly worth considering the benefit of time saving, better decision making and better demonstration of competence to charterers by having a system people really like to use.

No-one disagrees that information at one’s fingertips and decision making is important. And good decisions are associated with early action, good people management, risk awareness, problem-solving etc., and depend on retrieving useful information gleaned from past experiences, corporate know-how, a massive amount of machinery information, co-ordination on-board and ashore around fine details, all of which calls for the support of well designed software.

Usability, therefore, is the primary test of value for a company deciding to buy software. For 12 years Ulysses has been focusing on providing the right information to the right user at the right time. Complexity is avoided through careful fundamental design while the functionality provided is vast. We have focused on the highest paid and most vital and difficult to hire officers and superintendents, people in short supply, who have high turnover and have far more serious duties than spending time and concentration using awkward software. We believe that software must be used enthusiastically in order to succeed. Once it is widely adopted transparency becomes an asset not a liability.”

Finally Mr Panteleimon expresses his expectations for 2010. “For more than 12 years Ulysses has poured resources into research and has collaborated in projects of major research centres that focus on Artificial Intelligence. In this our 13th year of research and development Ulysses Task Assistant has reached the point where it can do the work of a personal assistant doing your clerical work, reminding you of what you have to do and putting things away for you. Task Assistant helps managers co-ordinate processes between themselves and others and to use the experiences of the sages in their company, past and present, discussing decisions they are about to make and as established earlier, all this can be had at only 11 to 15 dollars a day per ship.

In 2010 we will continue to prove the value of Ulysses Task Assistant to our existing and potential clients, in other words cost saving and customer satisfaction. Success in sales that depends entirely on the product and post sales service speaks for the quality of relationships that is representative of Ulysses.”