News Article 01/04/2002

The user - centered software challenge

01/04/2002 - ELNAVI

In a world where information technology can increase efficiencies and help solving business problems. too often the constraints or possibilities of several software applications have driven development that is very hard to work with.

"The challenge is to bring knowledge back to a user - centered environment rather than a technology centred one" believes the marketing director of Ulysses Systems(UK) Mr Costas Fafalios who talks to ELNAVI about today's challenges of information technology in shipping and Ulysses' core software product "The Task Assistant" concept.

Ulysses is founded on the concept that computers should be people literate rather than people being computer literate. The idea was that computers should be smart enough to work the way people work instead of people needing to adjust their activities around the features and functions of specific software packages. The idea was initially applied to building software for the shipping industry that facilitated operating ships in an efficient, safe and environmentally acceptable fashion. The results of the software engineering efforts that went into achieving this Initial goal have since evolved into a technology that Is currently referred to as the Task Assistant.

The Task Assistant is an ideal platform for building new applications and integrating existing applications together.
Ulysses currently sells both products and services. It sells a Quality and Safety Solution based on v1.0 of its core Task Assistant product. Version 2.0 of the Task Assistant is currently under development. In addition, the Ulysses has designed and is currently building an ntegrated suite of applications that facilitate the safe and efficient operation of ships that include Crewing, Purchasing, Quality & Safety, Communications and Planned Maintenance. These applications can be sold in conjunction with the Task Assistant individually or as an integrated suite. The integrated suite of applications is collectively referred to as Integrated Ship Management System or ISMS. The software is compliant with the ISM Code that governs shipping operations worldwide.

- When was Ulysses established and what were the purposes of that move?

- Ulysses Systems (UK) Limited took over the support. marketing and development of the Task Assistant platform from Ulysses Marine Electronic Market (UMEM) Limited in July 2001. UMEM was established In 1996 and was incorporated as a UK limited company in January 1997.

The Task Assistant philosophy was originally a response to the need to develop a software system to assist with ISM compliance for Lyras Shipping. Although at first Lyras looked to buy a suitable off the shelf system, none of the systems that were looked at were geared to the practical needs and operations of the company. It was therefore decided that. the obvious (but painful) way forward was to define and produce a system that reflects the way that each individual user actually does his / her job. As a result, through a lot of focused effort. which was supported and partly funded by two development projects of the European Commission, the Task Assistant concept was born.

Having solved a specific problem that addressed the needs of one shipping company, we realised the applicability of the Task Assistant product to helping solve other people's very similar problems. In maritime and many other industries.,Ulysses Systems now offers its software, developed through the expertise and understanding of working maritime professionals, to a general market.

- What are the prospects of Information management and what are the challenges today?

- The challenge is to bring knowledge back to a user-centred environment, rather than a technology centred one. Too often the constraints or possibilities of technology have driven development, resulting in a solution that is very hard to work with and manage. or that doesn't address the needs of the user.

We feel our products reflect the way people work, rather than the way technologists normally program computers. This makes the Task Assistant far more intuitive to use and means that the technology is harnessed to solve users' problems, rather than the users having to solve computer problems.

- What are the competitive advantages of Ulysses Task Assistant platform compared with other similar - software products in the market?

- Although there are other products on the market which perform some of the functions of Task Assistant, there is not at present a comparable piece of software that we are aware of. Task Assistant is not merely a tool for information management or interchange, but a solution that allows the user to work In the way they would normally do, with all the advantages of fast, relevant information retrieval.

Task Assistant gives the user just the information he or she needs to do the job efficiently, while connecting those involved in the same tasks into a network that distributes relevant information automatically and effortlessly. This makes it very hard for critical knowledge or information to be overlooked or lost in the system.

- Is there any fear for the companies acting on Information technology after the collapse of the e-commerce companies involved In shipping?

- No, those companies were working with a very different set of problems and assumptions to us. Our goal Is to help people go about their work with the minimum intrusion of technology. However, where technology can really benefit working practices, and as a result of this increase efficiencies, it should be used as an addition to the facilities already available. In our business,this is
through information storage and processing.

Those Internet companies that have failed lost sight of the real people ivolved because of the promise of enormous savings (and earnings). We concentrate very much on the day-to-day real working problems of seafarers and ship managers and we have many maritime professionals working for us. I believe this makes us sensitive to the needs of this industry.

- Why Task Assistant it has been very successful so far?

- Ulysses bases its core services on the Task Assistant suite of task orientated and knowledge management software. This is a suite of software products that covers all marine activities. both in the office and onboard. saving time and increasing efficiency.

It has been very successful and is currently in use by some of the world's largest shipping companies, including V-Ships, BP Shipping, Eurasia Group, etc. These companies appreciate the intuitive. easy to use Interface of the Task Assistant, which requires virtually no retraining of staff. Task Assistant addresses the needs of these companies for a fully scalable, reliable task management system.

- As you already know Greek shipping Is a highly fragmented market and the majority of the companies operate 2-3 vessels. Are Ulysses' Task Assistant applicable to those shipping companies?

- Ulysses' Task Assistant is not only applicable, it was originally designed specifically for this environment at Lyras Shipping. Ulysses understands the challenges of this type of shipping company better than any other.