News Article 20/02/2006 D

Don't get screwed up over paperwork

Safety at Sea International, February 2006, p.28-29

When inviting a master to comment on how his or her role has changed over the years you can almost guarantee that the number-one bone of contention will be the issue of increasing levels of paperwork. With ships often being crewed to the bare minimum manning level to try to improve profitability in today's competitive market, ensuring compliance with increasing safety and legislative requirements has placed a real burden on the ship's staff.

So good record keeping is essential and, since their introduction around 20 years ago, information technology-based shipboard management systems have become an essential tool for managing shipboard operations.
A good system should allow the ''paper'' work load to be reduced by increasing the efficiency and the performance of those on board. According το Capt. Michalis HatzimanoIis, the marine expert in Ulysses Systems'' Marketing and Pre-Sales department, a shipboard management system should not change common practices but help people become more efficient by enhancing the ability to manage information: "With proper support systems, the users can save time, be less occupied with administrative processes and focus their attention to what they do best - running the vessel."
In a typical system, information supplied by the ship is stored in a database that allows reports to be printed off easily, releasing the ship's staff from the time-consuming job of preparing them by hand. Most systems are also able to transmit the data automatically to a database held by the ship management company there.

The Danaos Enterprise Software Suite is a modular system that works in this way, allowing the flow of information to be integrated among the various departments ashore. "The vessel becomes an integral part of the company-wide electronic work-flow, resulting in improved business cycles and improved efficiency," says Dr. Panagiotis Nomikos, business development director at Danaos Management Consultants.

Common standards

According to Per Steinar Upsaker, managing director of BASS, its BASSnet Fleet Management Systems have been designed to help ship managers establish and enforce common standards and ''best practices'' in their fleet and ashore. He argues that in this way; systems can help to avoid accidents, pollution incidents, damage, off-hire and other undesired events.
Τhey can also increase transparency and get a better management overview while increasing productivity through improved work processes and reuse and exchange of data. A good management system can make it simpler to establish goals and monitor performance easily, using data for decision support to improve the business and collaborate closer with customers, partners and seafarers.
But there is a risk that separate "islands of information" will be created with interoperability problems when systems come from different vendors, each with its own databases and protocols.
ISO 15849, Guidelines for implementation of a fleet management system network, clears this fog by providing ship management companies with a set of principles for shipboard management systems or fleet management system networks that can be applied to the various functions, regardless of the particular technology being employed. The standard allows ship managers to maintain their systems through rapid changes in technology, enabling them to add new functions without having to replace their entire system.

Information technology-based shipboard management systems are gaining more attention from ship managers as they face high demands and requirements set by ISM, ISPS, OCIMF''s Tanker Management and Self Assessment (TMSA) programme and the classification bodies to name but a few. But what does the future hold? "The maritime industry is growing rapidly in terms of use of information technology and it is only a matter of time until all ships have state-of-the-art systems on board providing operational efficiency and safety at sea," believes Per Steinar Upsaker, managing director of BASS, who sees a bright future for shipboard management systems.
According to Capt. Michalis Hatzimanolis, the marine expert in Ulysses Systems'' Marketing and Pre-Sales department, any information system must follow both general and industry-specific trends. He cited developments at ΙΒΜ to make his point, which described a recent piece of software as being "aimed at helping managers and staff make the connection between their activities and the wider business strategy."
Ulysses has developed role-based models since 1998. Its strategy assumes that the maritime industry will need software that addresses a range of concerns, from demonstrating competence to third parties to the acute need to address the staff turnover and shortage of staff on board. In addition, the widely disbursed nature of maritime organizations poses its own challenge. '' these are challenges for which (non-marine) shore enterprises have far less concern," says Hatzimanolis.

Widespread broadband

It is also widely believed that affordable broadband connections will become the norm for ships in the near future, bringing them the same level of IT connectivity as land-base industries. As costs come down, ship managers will no doubt find shipboard management systems much more attractive.
Worldwide coverage is also expanding at a rate that makes the whole communication area more practical. ''Even the reduction in the cost of computers and networks and the ease of updating software remotely will affect shipboard installations," believes Nigel Smith, marketing manager of Manpower Software.
In addition, as officers become more confident and IT-literate, use of systems will expand.
So have faster, cheaper communications helped the development of shipboard management systems? It is a long term benefit and a short term obstacle, believes Hatzimanolis. "Cheap communication initially results in unstructured communication and communication overload," he argues. If they are properly structured however, cheaper communications result in more precise coordination, better support and transparency, he suggested. But it is still more expensive than for land-based industries, so the adoption of shipboard software is still impeded by the discontinuous nature of communications.
Taking into account the recent advances in improving satellite bandwidth for oceangoing commercial vessels, it is believed that in the near future vessels will be connected ''almost online'' to the head office ashore. "The vast implications of this forthcoming change are profound for improvements in efficiency and speed of operations," says Dr Panagiotis Nomikos, business development director at Danaos Management Consultants. Danaos claims to be the only maritime software provider that has tested its onboard systems via broadband vessel connections in several vessels over the past two years. Those vessels are operating the software in ''always on'' connections, like any other land-based network node, the company reports.

On-line business

Paul Ostergaard, founder and CEO of the on-line ship supply exchange ShipServ, believes that in three years the majority of shipping companies with more than ten vessels will be managing their supplies electronically, including interacting electronically with their suppliers. And by the end of this decade, the company predicts, most shipping companies will be transacting electronically with all their trade partners. "The future requires that successful companies operate in a flexible, alert and efficient manner to strengthen their market positions and meet the growing global competition," says its marketing coordinator, Lone Jenson.
But will this improved communication result in more detailed supervision and micro-management of on-board operations by ship managers ashore and limit freedom of action for ships'' officers?
"The easy and constant availability of [telephone/email] communication with a vessel allows too many people to demand information from the crew," believes Jennifer Tobin, director of Datatrac. She believes that the process would be better served by providing access to a ship's central data so that other people could draw off their own reports.
But the question remains: Could the same happen with shipboard management systems? Only time will tell, but if this is the case the master may well have a new bone of contention.