Update Jul 2006

User convenience: The key to effective information management

A vessel is approaching the Mississippi River and must prepare for arrival at a port in the New Orleans area. The Ch. Mate, in anticipation of arrival, will spend significant time on standby in the forecastle and on the bridge. Upon anchorage in a waiting area, the Ch. Mate must attend to clearance and inspection procedures before relocating the vessel to another anchorage, where he must oversee bunkering operations, stores deliveries, crew transfers, and familiarization training for new crew members. This must all be completed before berthing when he will prepare the vessel for loading or discharging operations (loading plan, cargo formalities…). In light of all these responsibilities, to comply with current statutory requirements, the Ch. Mate is expected to simultaneously complete numerous checklists, forms, reports, and messages, all while attending to his other duties.

The scenario above highlights several pressing issues that ship-managers and ship-owners encounter in their everyday operations. The inability to adequately manage work and rest periods while operating ships in ports with narrow waters and long standby, an issue introduced by ILO in 1996, is an important concern. Crew fatigue, whether in relation to the master or to others on duty, has been cited as a cause of many accidents. Moreover, when incidents occur, the crew''s inaccurate records are inevitably employed as evidence against the claimants in legal disputes.

Apart from the non administrative duties a master is expected to perform such as remaining in the wheelhouse until the "all fast" is done and the tugs are let go, masters are inundated with countless additional administrative responsibilities which include:

  • attending to immigration, customs and port authorities,
  • sending off the arrival message to all parties concerned,
  •  signing off crews/signing on new crews,
  •  ensuring all new crewmembers undergo adequate familiarization training,
  • troubleshooting cargo operation abnormalities while properly recording evidence of due diligence
  • preparing the ship for the new voyage and sending off estimated time of departure (ETD) notes to all interested parties,
  • supervising security measures,
  • presenting crew records and relevant managerial records to inspectors,
  •  signing off on bunkering checklists and bunker delivery receipts,
  •  addressing crew medical requirements
  •  demonstrating risk management due diligence in the case of a recent occurrence which could affect seaworthiness.
  • ensuring that work rest periods are adhered to

Under such overwhelming circumstances, masters and senior officers are considerably more likely to present poorly to inspectors, miss steps in demonstrating due diligence, make accounting errors, judgment errors while familiarizing themselves with ship-specific defects, etc. Other pressing factors that highlight the necessity of better planning and execution from an administrative standpoint includes the high turnover and current shortage of experienced crew, shorter periods in ports, greater congestion, and more intrusive demands from third parties.

Can Information Technology contribute to the solution of the problem?
Information Systems can assist people:

  •  To make obscure information easy to find without preoccupying the user
  •  To make reporting easy to understand and complete even under duress
  •  To make written instructions clear and relevant to the task at hand
  • To ensure the expediency and accuracy of data transactions in light of stressful situations

The benefit to the mariner and the organization is:

  •  Quicker transfer of new instructions or training information
  • Less time spent on administrative work combined with significantly greater control over critical processes
  •  A more accurate and comprehensive record of due diligence

Concerns and Suggestions to purchase software
When it comes to making everyday decisions on matters such as what paint to buy, what filter to use, or which shipyard to dry dock your ship in, companies rarely hesitate. With their acquired familiarity and experience over the years regarding such decisions, companies can comparatively evaluate factors including the quality of service, competitive pricing of the product, the product''s reputation, etc. Essentially, they know what to expect and how to evaluate the products on the market. However, the emerging shipping software market is still unfamiliar to many, making software purchases a difficult and uneasy task.

So what are the decisive factors that companies should look for when evaluating a system''s competitive advantages? What should a system offer? We believe it should:

  • help people on board to better prepare themselves for the performance of critical operations where sub-optimal procedural variations are most costly.
  • significantly reduce incidents related to organizational and informational deficiencies within the company.
  • provide a more cost-efficient and comprehensive risk-management system.
  •  promote and accelerate the integration of new policies and procedures, ensuring greater internal compliance as well as an easier and more cost-effective transition.
  • save costs by releasing employees from superfluous administrative duties and paperwork, in order to devote more time and energy to optimising spending and operational efficiency.

Effective information management is dependent primarily on perceived convenience

  • The success of e-mail due its user convenience: In the past decade, the world experienced an exponential growth in email usage by virtue of its tremendous user convenience. Email is fast, efficient, and an excellent way to archive information. In fact, some criticize that e-mail collects more information than they would ideally wish. For our purposes, e-mail''s popularity highlights an important link between data collection and user convenience; a link that illustrates the critical need for convenient information management systems among information-centric organizations.
  • People onboard need convenient applications to record their work and comply with regulations: Systems must have the capacity to collect and record all relevant data, but as the marine industry has demonstrated time and time again, people cannot be bullied and trained to report. Ships experience high crew turnovers, are remotely located, and are run by multi-tasking managers who cannot spend their days supervising members of the crew to ensure they accurately record their work and comply with regulations. Moreover, no senior manager in any industry can be expected to learn two or three complicated applications in order to carry out his job, so why do we demand that of a captain or chief officer?
  • The difference between e-mail and maritime applications: E-mail has been a success on board because of its intuitive convenience, but its limitations render it insufficient for the purpose of on board data collection. Although email is suitable for personal filing, one cannot easily circulate information to all users at the appropriate time, which makes it an inadequate tool for information distribution.
  • Systems onboard must present important information to the user when it is relevant to the task at hand, at the time of need: The distribution of important corporate information must be as close to automatic as possible. It is critical that all relevant information is provided to the user at the appropriate time, with minimal requirements for circulation by the end user. Rather than simply alert a user when a message is received, operating systems must present the information to a user when it is relevant to the task at hand. It is a mistake to assume that a user will know where to find the appropriate information, or even that he is aware of its existence in the first place. Our experience tells us that people are not likely to rummage through records without knowing if there is anything there of value to the current activity. In this regard, critical corporate information is often overlooked because it is difficult to find or unknown to the user.
  • Task Assistant succeeds in lowering costs, and bolstering operational efficiency by increasing user convenience and promoting excellent record-keeping practices: Task Assistant has been designed precisely to combine e-mail and customary shipping applications such as Planned Maintenance with other strategic elements that are needed for success. Email must provide the additional functionality of information circulation in addition to distribution, while maritime applications must evolve into record-keeping mechanisms. Task Assistant aims in doing so by adding enhancements that significantly increase user convenience and bolstering operational efficiency.

Anyone can speak to the advantages of their product, but the bottom line is how it performs in the field. According to major third-party ship managers who have no tolerance for money spent on ineffective productivity tools, Task Assistant succeeds in saving costs and bolstering operational efficiency. We would be happy to show you reports of the Task Assistant in use and put you in contact with existing users including those on board who are rarely satisfied by conventional maritime software.

Bourbon Offshore

Ulysses' latest deal was with Bourbon Offshore of Marseilles, a company with 130 vessels offshore and another 100 on order. Looking to consolidate the management of their company, Bourbon had already spent several months evaluating software packages and was ready to sign on with one of our competitors. After we approached them, they decided to delay their final decision until they could properly evaluate Task Assistant. Over the next six weeks, we pulled out all the stops to demonstrate Task Assistant''s superior capability in addressing all of Bourbon''s software needs and expectations. During the evaluation, we were at their offices every week with different teams, consulting on all aspects of our software with one objective in mind; to ensure that all users at Bourbon were confident of Task Assistant''s unrivaled performance and value.