Update Nov 2004



The CONCEPT: For any software the benefit you receive can be assumed to follow this equation:

ANNUAL RETURN ON INVESTEMENT="OVERALL USABILITY X THEORITICAL ANNUAL BUSINESS BENEFITS} - [" Annualised License Cost + Annualised Configuration Cost + Annualised Ttraining Cost dependent on Usability + Annual Maintenance Fee + Annual Maintence Cost for error Corrections + Annual Usage Cost based on opportunity cost of time spent by users on the system}]

  •   Where usability is a number between 0 and 1 (setting the maximum potential of Usability as 1.
  • The above equation is easiest to use when applied on a per vessel basis because annual costs are best estimated on that basis.

The IMPORTANCE & EFFECT of USABILITY on Return On Investment
They are immediately illustrated in the case of internet and mobile phone usage:

  • High Usability is essential for Internet service to be used otherwise people will return to previous methods of carrying out jobs/tasks (e.g. book their tickets by phone) due to the fact that there is no way that people will go through training to do transactions on the web.
  • The same principle can be applied to comparison example of mobile phones:

1. Phone A: you need several clicks in order to find a number that you want to dial and you even need to read the manual and then memorise the path to the Searching function.
2. Phone B: you can get to the function that you want intuitively in two steps.
3. Phone C: you can customize Short Cuts and Speed Dialling of most frequently used numbers so that you can dial the number by pressing only one number.

A mobile phone is a productivity tool, easing the work of keeping in touch with key people especially in the case of frequent travellers. Much of this productivity gain would be lost in the case of phone A compared to phone B or C. The above features and other similar features in mobile phones open up a vast additional ROI for users.

Enterprise software functionality is vastly more extensive than mobile phone functionality and therefore much more dependent on Usability for busy users. Also in both cases, confused users can resort to previous lower productivity but intuitive methods to bypass awkward functionality. Therefore the effect of usability of adoption, utilisation and ROI is paramount.

From this we can see that the importance of Usability. At Ulysses we believe that without Task Orientation (properly designed usability), the business benefit is seriously reduced while the cost of annual training remains high. Please refer to Annex 2 for details.

The Business BENEFITS

The typical business associated with for example a Planned Maintenance and Purchasing system comes in 3 categories:

1. Replacing a perfect paper system
2. Replace a less than perfect paper system (more realistic scenario)
3. To comply by oil-company best practice requirements.

  • The use of a software system to replace a meticulously operated manual PMS and Purchasing system typically saves about $60,000 per year per vessel in labour and preoccupation of chief engineers, superintendents and on shore support staff.
  • The use of a software system to replace a less than perfect system may save less labor cost but can save more direct costs than the above figure if we consider the additional savings brought by a more meticulous spares purchasing processes and matching to needs.
  • The use of a software system to comply by OCIMF guidelines is currently not easy to estimate but can be very high depending on whether vessels in fleet are affected by these guidelines.

Vendor specific features and functions:
Most marine software packages for PMS and Purchasing have similar features in the most significant areas of ROI due to the long-standing existence of the category. Since PMS and Purchasing systems are primarily targeted to make a meticulous process easy to execute, most differentiating features are aimed at user convenience. Those affecting highly paid users, those affecting a large number of staff and those having the greatest impact on efficiency, compliance to desired policies and expense management, are of course by far the most important in their requirement of usability.

Software lifecycle costs, the measure of all the cost associated with the software throughout the useful life of the software, are also dependant on usability.

1. Training Costs: If Usability is such that users cannot intuitively carry out their transactions, then considerable training needs to be performed in order to reach this point. This must be measured when comparing systems through the observation of training over a representative sample of processes and then multiplied by the number of users and opportunity cost. Usability for senior staff on vessels is of paramount importance. Differences in training costs between software packages can typically be equal to the entire license cost or $2000 per vessel per year.
2. Configuration Cost: The initial comparative ease of configuration can be very different between systems that have different degree of sophistication in the area of allowing designated non specialist client personnel and purely marine staff to understand, configure and improve the configuration. This eliminates the need for complex, documented exchanges between marine experts and IT experts. The usability of the configuration facilities is something that has been a profound problem in many systems and towards which Ulysses has applied its task orientation and many important and intuitive features. On going costs of configuration can be very different between two systems and can typically equal half the license cost or $1000 per vessel per year.
3. Annual maintenance cost for error correction:This depends on the Usability of the system and ease with which program can be understood and maintained by the customer side information systems people. The difference between packages in correcting usage errors can vary significantly and easily match the annual license cost or $2000 per vessel per year.
4. Annual usage cost: This is by far the highest cost over the life of the software. It consists of the time spent interacting with the system. Usability has a huge affect on transaction time and therefore usage loss. Typically the difference in usage cost between one system and another can range from 5 to 10 times license cost or $10,000 to $20,000 per vessel per year.

Comparing software systems in the Shipping Industries
It is possible to fairly simply predict how successful a software application will be in the field, provided that the right approach is taken when comparing systems.

Software that works in the marine enterprise must be utilised at least to the extent of returning the benefits it was designed to provide in order to justify its lifecycle cost (highly dependent on Usability).

Usability will be the primary influence on the value obtained from the software you buy, because the most critical users in the marine industry are managerial level roles. They are in short supply, they have high turnover, they are multi tasking and they have far more serious duties than spending time and concentration on using awkward software.

In the following attached annexes we describe methods to compare usability and describe some fundamental design requirements of good Usability.



For each incremental process in the system, usability can be broadly stated as follows:

  • Actual (A): Actual Time and preoccupation taken to perform the increment of process using each system after initial familiarisation.

Expected (E): Time and preoccupation that users feel is appropriate for performing the increment of process after initial familiarisation.

Usability is dependant upon Actual/Expected

  • If Actual/Expected is Less than 1 then Usability = A/E-2 (A/E-1)>0
  • If Actual/Expected is Equal to 1 then Usability=1
  • If Actual/Expected is More than 1 then Usability = A/E-2 (A/E-1)>0
  • If Actual/Expected is More than 2 then Usability = 0 or seriously diminished

Expected time for each process will also be equal between the two systems being compared , since it is the function of the perception of each user.

We will multiply the usability factor by an agreed incremental benefit of each feature as a percentage of the agreed total annualised benefit for the whole module or major part.

The benefit of each feature will be the same for each competing system; it will be based on an overall benefit for each family of features such as maintaining maintenance records, whereby each feature will be divided into incremental process constituents, or tasks that may be done separately.

The following is an Example of 2 major features of a PMS and purchasing system: maintenance records keeping and control of spares requisitioning and ordering: (We have mentioned the major constituents of each process not necessarily to completion so as to illustrate the method without resorting to a lengthy description.)

The assigned benefit per year and percentage of overall benefit is also assigned to each increment of the process: In these examples we have assigned $30,000 per year per vessel for maintenance records keeping and $40,000 per year per vessel for control of spares requisitioning and ordering.

On Board:

  • Report completed maintenance - 30% of maintenance records keeping.
  • View maintenance schedule and perform actual schedule of jobs for next proximate period - 50% of maintenance records keeping.
  • View maintenance schedule 4 months ahead to check spares - 20% control of Spares requisitioning and ordering.
  • View spares necessary for jobs and check outstanding req., inventory - 20% control of Spares requisitioning and ordering.
  • Requisition spares/stores as necessary - 20% control of Spares requisitioning and ordering.

In the office processes for PMS and Purchasing:

  • Receive requisitions and prepare RFQ - 5% control of Spares requisitioning and ordering.
  • Receive quotations and reorganise as orders - 10% control of Spares requisitioning and ordering.
  • Approve quantities and prices reorganising final orders - 15% control of Spares requisitioning and ordering.
  • Place orders - 5% control of Spares requisitioning and ordering
  • Follow up (track progress of orders) - 5% control of Spares requisitioning and ordering

By covering all the critical areas of benefit for which a PMS and Purchasing system is sought, and adding up the relative scores we can compare them to annualised anticipated costs and therefore anticipate annualised business benefit for the entire suite of application. For example to complete a typical PMS and Purchasing system comparative analysis we need to add defects reporting and remedy co-ordination, unscheduled maintenance record keeping, maintenance history and analysis etc.



Ulysses Task Orientation makes usability orders of magnitude better for a few simple reasons:

1. All system navigation is based on a tailored system for each user (role) in your company. So no user needs to confuse functionality meant for others with the users own functionality. This is highly important in tasks where the process is similar but has subtle differences such as approval authority, different contexts under which tasks are performed etc.
2. All system functionality is based on completion of familiar tasks. Business functions appear only as business goals never as system options. In other words there is no jargon in the system and practically no confusion regarding what process the user wants to perform and how to select the appropriate function.

So the first time user:

1. Knows exactly what Task to choose because the choices are tailored to that user and described in user and domain defined wording. The user has no effort whatsoever to locate his or her own business functions among hundreds.
2. All presentations of functional options are based on business terminology related to the task being performed, so the user can understand the functional options within a task because they are few, and are tailored to that task while no other less relevant options are shown.
3. The user always retains a view of all other business task options (not system functional options) so as to easily navigate to the next task of choice, or to perform process variation through interim steps before completion of a task.
4. The system retains contextual focus for example on a machinery component while the user can jump from one task to another while exercising a process variation. This is a fundamental aspect of usability and emulates reality allowing them to work naturally.

Without task orientation the following occurs:

1. All system navigation is based on users knowing enough about the layout of the system to find functionality meant for them. If familiarisation to find each user's 10 most frequent business processes is long and difficult to memorise, the likelihood of memorizing the navigation to the less frequent functions is very low. For a typical master there are over 30 increments of process for which to memorise navigation and process completion.
2. All system functionality is based on software system logic and the system's description of real world functions. The problem here is to memorise the correlation between system functions and real world functions for each user.

So the first time user:

1. Has very little confidence as to which functions to choose
2. Once a function has been chosen the follow on actions are too many due to lack of obvious tailoring to the task at hand, and many of the available follow on actions are too generally described and therefore loosely related to the task at hand to make completion intuitive.
3. Alternative main business tasks cannot be seen so it is not obvious that the current choice is correct or what other options are available.
4. If a process is varied by including a sub process that has not been specifically designed into the original, there is no way to leave the current process without loosing focus on the context chosen in the original. For example if the Chief engineer is looking at the a component of machinery with respect to defects and then wants to look at available spares, the transition to inventory form the defects list will not retain the focus on the component.