News Article 15/04/2009

How important is monitoring via software in a downturn?
Tanker Operator, April 2009, p.30

Anyone who has read management books has probably heard about how leading companies manage information in order to accelerate decision-making, preparation, efficiency etc*.

A low stock market and a low charter market are environments when good theory is found interesting but rarely adopted. In such an environment, why pay now for something hopefully attainable later, when the company is barely overcoming costs today?

Information technology can significantly support decision making and assist in improving processes in shipping so as to make a company operate better than its competitors, especially during a low market period.

In the shipping business, an information-centric organisation could be described as one that pays a lot of attention to how information is internally distributed and disseminated, an organisation that distributes information to the right person at the right time, without spending a tremendous conscious effort to achieve this.

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 optimising 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.

An example of risk assessment necessary in day-to-day shipmanagement could involve - a report of seawater content in the stern tube lubricating oil shows a higher level than usual. Is this information something that remains within the technical department, or is it a subject requiring some risk assessment from a commercial as well as a technical standpoint?

If it remains within the technical department, is there not a major likelihood that an early opportunity to inspect the stern gland may be lost if the vessel is promptly chartered to an area where stern seal repairs are prohibitively expensive and unreliable?

If there is a chance of the gland quickly deteriorating, could this not soon require immediate intervention and interruption of the vessel’s current employment or even salvage? This should be assessed by both senior management and commercial management. Boilers, inert gas systems and main engine components can also all introduce tremendous commercial risk.

The convenience with which information is managed and co-ordinated plays a major role in the avoidance of a delay, such as, for example, a delay in the delivery of necessary standby spare parts.

So how can good co-ordination save costs? The lost earnings for a day or two, or the missing of the next employment, or the loss of an opportunity to perform other downtime work and avoid another several days of downtime.

A few months later, during a vetting inspection the inspector asks to see the risk assessment checks made during the stern seal repair. He finds that a variety of checklists from the company’s safety management system were omitted during the repair period: the diver co-ordination checklist, the stand by mooring contingency while the vessel was at the repair berth, the weather checks during the repair and others.

Oil companies view vetting as an assessment of managerial competence. They rely on spot checks and record checks. How can you maintain records if the SMS system is so complicated that it is unclear which item of paperwork pertains to each circumstance?

How does a company implement measures designed to save costs? A significant step is the ability to manage information. Proper information management can ensure that progress in adopting new processes is transparent. It can also ensure convenience in gathering, comparing, and making decisions based on adequate information so as to better achieve cost control.

The distribution of important corporate information must be as close to automatic as possible and must find the user with the right information at the right time with minimal required dissemination from the end user. We have to go beyond email, which alerts the receiver when the sender sends the information. We must be able to put the information in front of the user at the time that the user is likely to need it, even if the user is not consciously looking for it. Critical corporate information is often overlooked because it is difficult to find.

User convenience is the key to effective information management and significantly reduced operational costs. Systems must have the capacity to organize all relevant data, and to know about how shipping works.

Ulysses’ Task Assistant software has been designed precisely for the purpose of taking email and customary shipping applications, such as planned maintenance and adding the elements that are needed for success. Task Orientation is a mechanism of relating overlapping information and allowing co-ordination by relating all data and content to the end use by each user, in other words the time when each user needs the information.
This ensures that documents and data actually help people perform their tasks and support their decision processes, making processes more transparent, and thus more efficient, is the key to make a company operate better than its competitors, especially during a low market period.

*This article is an extract from a paper written by Ulysses Systems.