News Article 01/08/2000

Ship/Shore Coordination: Managers adopt Task Assistant software platform

01/08/2000 - Asian Shipping

Kuwait Oil Tanker Co (KOTC) and V Ships are the latest companies to adopt the Task Assistant software platform which is designed to facilitate communication and coordination on board ship and between a company's offices and its fleet.

Task Assistant was developed by Ulysses Systems Ltd in collaboration with Lyras Shipping Ltd UK to address the perceived need to coordinate all information and company know-how while incorporating documentation and procedures relating to the implementation of the International Safety Management (ISM) Code.

Lyras Shipping director, Dr Nikos Mikelis explains that his company was quick to recognise the implications of ISM: "The ISM Code requires all activities on board and ashore, which in any way relate to safety and prevention of pollution, to be documented and followed by auditable procedures, and also all relevant communications and records to be documented and traceable. This is a very broad requirement and one which can lead to cumbersome manuals, large volumes of paperwork, non-intuitive filing systems and, in short, a massive bureaucracy with no value to management efficiency."

Realising that the only sensible route was to combine all communications, company operations and quality management aspects in one system, developed an appropriate system and was successful in securing partial funding from two European Commission bodies.

By the summer of 1998, the basic development work was completed. Lyras Shipping first used the system for its ISM audits for the DOC (Document of Compliance) and SMC (Safety Management Certificate) and these were passed by Lloyd's Register of Shipping just before the July 1998 deadline. Dr Mikelis believes this was the first time a shipping company achieved ISM certification using a fully computerised system.
Task Assistant was designed to be adaptable to the procedures and manuals of each company and to be very user friendly.

Dr Takis Katsoulakos, director of IJMEM explains:

"Task Assistant has been designed to be people-literate and business-literate so that businesses and people running them do not have to be computer-literate. To ensure the total adaptation of the Task Assistant platform to each company's management style, the system has been designed to anticipate and fit each company's management system.

"Furthermore, seafarers hate learning to use software and management systems which require them to adapt their thinking and to go through special training. Task Assistant has been designed to be highly intuitive so as to require minimal familiarisation and to show clear value to people on board and ashore in order to win their interest and utilisation."

As initiative was quickly rewarded and several major shipping companies have become licensed Task Assistant users. Among them are Mobil Shipping Co. Eastern Mediterranean Maritime Ltd of Greece, International Tanker Management Ltd of Dubai (the tanker management branch of Barber International), and Great White Fleet of Belgium.

Information and tools keyed to specific tasks

Dr Mikelis claims that Task Assistant combats information overload by providing the precise set of information and/or tools people need to complete a specific task, precisely when it is needed. He says: "The Task Assistant software was designed to give all parts of a shipping business instant access to task-relevant data, applicable tools and appropriate procedures. It includes modules for Purchasing, Planned Maintenance, Fleet Management. Crew Management, Quality and Safety."

is now adapting the software for other industries that want to overcome the inherent limitations of conventional information technology systems. Dr Katsoulakos, who has been involved with software development for over 20 years and previously worked for Lloyd's Register, stresses the timeliness of ergonomics in all applications of software:

"Even the most modern of our electronic telecommunications such as e-mail come to the attention of the receiver only when the sender transmits them, not when the receiver needs them. Furthermore, e-mail or telecommunications are not automatically filed in the categories needed by your business. This makes it very difficult to find your own past work, let alone that of your colleagues. On board a ship, where crews are rotated, this can be a particular problem."

In contrast, Dr Mikelis explains, Task Assistant acts much like a coordination centre. "The software continually captures information from all parts of the business, processes it, then offers completely current data that is purely relevant to each individual or team, just in time to complete whatever work may be at hand. That makes it a remarkably powerful tool for making each part of an operation run better, and for all parts of an operation to work in harmony."

Task Assistant reads an enterprise's manuals and external manuals, relevant forms, checklists, standing instructions, safety reminders, current communications and virtually any other type of operating data/tools into electronic form. The system then selectively accesses these data/tools and offers them to people as they fulfil their defined operating roles and complete their assigned tasks.

Ashore, for example, the operations manager is automatically presented with the information and tools he needs to coordinate ships' operations efficiently; on board, the chief officer is presented with the exact set of data and forms needed to complete reports required by the master and the company management.

Dr Mikelis continues: "Task Assistant ensures that everyone in the company finds what he needs for the task he is doing, and that they must deal with only relevant and immediately applicable information. Task Assistant also contributes to the development of corporate memory by making corporate memory a by-product of people's everyday work."

Filing of all checklists and other communications is automated in Task Assistant, while updating of manuals, forms and procedures is done electronically and remotely. A quality manager, for example, can electronically distribute policy updates from his office computer to all ships in the fleet.

The Task Assistant software is component based, is fully compatible with a variety of popular software platforms and communications software, and is highly customisable.

V Ships' head of information systems, Dave Martin added: "For any task, Task Assistant presents onboard staff with relevant procedures from company manuals and other publications, and gives immediate access to related forms and other support tools (programs). Task Assistant has been able to provide a unified view of documents stored in Task Assistant itself and of company forms we have developed in Oracle. In addition, it has the ability to launch relevant third-party tools, such as distance tables or bunker calculators.

"This immediate access to forms allows easy entry of data and hence builds the base for analysis of critical information."