News Article 18/03/2002

Ulysses on a voyage of discovery

18/03/2002 - Lloyd's List

WHAT do you get when you cross a small London Greek shipping company with a US electronic software company and a dose of cognitive techniques?

The answer is Task Assistant, an information knowledge management platform which provides a new level of information control for the shipowner and manager which is both relevant and timely organised by role and task.

Originating as the brainchild of Lyras Shipping and Ulysses Marine Electronic systems, Task Assistant now operates fully under the umbrella of Ulysses systems and has developed into one of the leading business process management systems for shipping.

Present users of the system include include Great White Shipping, Mobil Shipping, BP shipping, the Eurasia group of companies and V.Ships.

It has also recently undertaken a Great Lakes campaign which has seen the company add Oglebay Norton, Upper Lakes Group and the American Steamship Company to its ever-expanding client list.

And it won't stop there if the chief executive of Ulysses Systems, Tom Leskie, has his way.

"At present Ulysses System devotes half of its resources to task assistance for shipping with the other half devoted to creating a generic system which can be used by other companies outside the shipping industry," he says.

"It is essentially a productivity tool which we feel that we can market to other companies in other sectors.

"We have no sales as yet, but a number of companies are certainly interested and we are delighted that they are from a diverse range of industries, including schools and oil platforms."

The user-friendly design has been proved to save time and increase efficiency, both on board vessels and in the offices of some of the world's most demanding companies.

Task Assistant simply details and manages the entire shipmanagement process, step-by-step and task-by-task according to job function.

The program provides shipboard personnel with a variety of forms and a checklist, along with access to online manuals, documents company records or company communications.

The present Version 2.0 of the platform has added new modules for crewing, planned maintenance and purchasing.

"There are two types of knowledge management systems, content management and content delivery," says Mr Leskie.

"Task Assistant deals solely with content delivery. It does not distinguish between information but puts it together as a task for a specific user."

But shipping technology has always been regarded with scepticism and caution by a number of owners and managers, so how does Ulysses overcome this problem?

"In the beginning there were a few systems around which proved difficult to use and thus a stigma was attached to using software," says Pantelimon Pantelis, director and the man responsible for the development and running of Task Assistant.

"But we have overcome this by making the software as simple as possible with a minimum number of clicks and an easy-to-use windows-based format."

"It has purposefully been designed so it is easy to use, designed by seafarers for seafarers using cognitive techniques."

Part of the trick is to configure the system to emulate the business process. But are the smaller owners really willling to invest in high-tech software?

"Most software fails when a customer cannot see the immediate value of a system," he says. "This is where Task Assistant differs. The user can see the value of the product the first time he logs on."

The platform also fits neatly into full compliance with the demands of the ISM code, which requires shipowners and crews to formalise their working practices and shipboard procedures. In fact Lyras Shipping was the first company to pass its ISM audits using a fully computerised system.

Lyras Shipping also used Task Assistant in a recent became involved in a recent EU-funded project designed to "create a shipping sector specific reference architecture and to use it for the development of an open technology platform supporting the integration of key services and applications for the shipping industry".

In the Aretops project - "a reference system architecture and technology platform for the shipping sector" - Task Assistant was put through a test against an electronic document manager to perform tasks including planning for port arrival and for voyage.

Task Assistant was proved to be more than 50% quicker in retrieving archive documents that the document manager system.

Ulysses is consistently looking at ways of improving the modules on the platform. One particular area has been the development of a procurement module where you can design and change requisition order and even add suppliers.

"We are fully XML compliant and are actively looking at the possibility of integration with some of the leading e-procurement systems," says Mr Leskie.