News Article 30/01/2010

EXMAR’s Approach to Maritime ICT. ICT in Crisis Times – Opportunity or Disaster
By Christophe Vanneste
(Economic Outlook, Dec 2009, p.36-39)

Company Profile
EXMAR is a diversified and independent industrial shipping group that serves the international oil and gas industry.
EXMAR strivers to create shareholder value over the long-term by balancing long and short-term agreements to counteract volatility in the freight market, combined with providing services that are tailored to the customer’s needs.
EXMAR endeavours to support sustainable growth by attaching the greatest importance to the quality of its fleet, the safety of its personnel and equipment and the protection of the environment.

Innovation is the driving force behind EXMAR. By applying the latest technological developments in the shipping industry EXMAR guarantees efficient, environmentally friendly and safe gas transportation at all times. These innovations not only confirm our organisation’s reputation for sustainability, but also benefit our economic performance.
Strategic joint ventures and contracts strengthen our competitive position.
With the development and the construction of the semi-submersible OPTI-EX™ offshore production platform, for example, we have remained a step ahead of developments in the exploitation of marginal offshore oil and gas fields.

The operational activities are divided among four sectors:

Transport of liquid petroleum gas, anhydrous ammonia and chemical gases.


  • Transport of liquefied natural gas, with delivery either as a liquid or in natural gas form utilizing an on-board regasification installation (LNGRV).
  • Development of Upstream/Downstream LNG projects

Services provided to the offshore oil and gas industry, encompassing offshore processing, storage and transshipment of oil and gasses, as well as development, consulting and new designs for floating installations services.


  • Holding activities
  • EXMAR Shipmanagement: ship management services
  • Belgibo: insurance brokerage
  • Travel Plus: travel agency

EXMAR Shipmanagement provides high quality ship management and related services to owners of high tech LNGRV, LNG, LPG and chemical carriers and floating units (storage & accommodation).
These services aim at continuous enhancement of the quality, safety and security of the daily operations, care for the well being of the crews and protection of the marine environment.

This is achieved by:

  •  Involving ship and shore staff actively in the daily improvement of HSEQ processes
  •  Focusing on company loyalty by recruitment of young officers through co-operation with several maritime academies around the world
  •  Enhanced training programs at recognized top-level institutes supplemented by in-house training
  •  Ensuring a fleet wide cost efficient maintenance and defect reporting system
  •  Supplying reliable hard- and software tools and services to support the daily operations

Over the past years we have supplemented our ship management activities with technical and marine consultancy and audit services to the oil and gas industry including supervision of vessel modifications for technical or environmental purposes and the technical and nautical assistance for the development of high-tech gas port facilities.

The pain
And then there was the crisis…
It has been almost a year since the ICT budget was cut significantly. Management started asking questions like “do you really need all those people in the IT department, what are they all doing”; “why are we paying such a huge amount on cell-phone usage”; “is travelling really required”; “why do we need software upgrades while the current versions are working perfectly”; “why do these people need training, they are experts already”; “is there no cheaper way to communicate with our vessels”; and many more.

And so it was clear; we needed to start doing more with less.
In fact, an IT manager is trapped between two extremes: getting less capital for new investments but also needed to assure a more flexible infrastructure for serving the business changing market conditions.
Can ICT answer the raised questions? In what do we invest?


ICT Department Changes
After many hours of investigation, isolation, brain-picking and a few sleepless nights, we came up with a set of changes and opportunities.
First of all, the ICT department needed to be restructured. Each role within the department required a clear re-definition, job-roles linked to tasks. For example, a split was made in 1st line and 2nd line helpdesk. As a result the 2nd line people can focus more on problem management, preventive monitoring of systems & software and less on fixing issues and answering phone calls. (ITIL) To be able to guarantee service to our users – customers if you like – knowledge sharing is a crucial aspect of fast and good service.
And there it was said; the ICT department is a service provider where quality of service gets its true meaning.
By using a ticketing system and timesheets, IT is in control; measurements can be made so we know what and how we are doing things.

A major change was the broadening of the number of customers by no longer providing ICT services to only EXMAR Shipmanagement, but also to all companies within the EXMAR group being EXMAR, Travel Plus, Belgibo and EXMAR Shipmanagement. Technically the big challenge has been putting all the clients on one single domain, but it’s very clear there are numerous advantages, as there are for example fast and efficient information sharing between operational departments; vast security solutions; better pricing; more usable email-groupings; reduction of the number of servers and other systems; even sharing of nice-to-have-tools that take away some repetitive jobs; etc.
On the financial side of providing services, we calculated the unit-price for all equipment and licenses. Activity Based Costing (ABC) is implemented for support services and we are invoicing the companies based upon what they use, instead of what a server would cost for instance.
For example, we know exactly what an email (outlook) client costs, making use of the redundant Exchange server architecture with archiving, licenses, backup-system etc. Same story goes for a fully installed laptop, a virtual server, a citrix setup or even the hosting of a company’s website; pay-per-user; pay-per-CPU; pay-per-terabyte.
Some changes had to be made in the accounting application to have a perfect match and to get full transparency of the costs towards our customers & users.

The implementation of the Follow The Sun (FTS) model is another measure that was taken. This model is in fact a global workflow in which tasks are passed around between worksites that are time-zone apart, and is most effective in support services. In practice 3 teams - one in Singapore, one in Antwerp (HQ) and one in Houston, in this order – will handover the ‘shift’ between each other so the services are following the sun, resulting in a 24/7 support service, while the travelling costs are minimized sending a local resource instead of a long and expensive flight from Belgium. By the way, vessels deserve this type of support.

A small-impact idea – but very popular these days – was the selection of green IT hardware; where these types servers use less power on low utilization. All bits help.

To get a view on what the costs are of cell-phone communications, IT equipment in all its flavours, satellite communications, printer-usage; or even the complete “budget-versus-actuals-status” in summary form or details; we took advantage of the only option here which is visualizing the data. Performance measurement using flexible tools provided us with drill-through graphs and filter capabilities to investigate tons of data and to narrow-down the most high-impact actions that can be taken to select to correct investments in alternatives to…save money.
Key is to know where the burdens are in order to make the correct decisions.

Lean Six Sigma is a business project that was started later this year. Six Sigma is a methodology that mainly focuses on eliminating bad products or services to clients by using statistical evaluation. Six Sigma is the relentless effort to systematically reduce variation. Lean is a methodology that mainly focuses on eliminating waste. Lean is the relentless effort to systematically reduce waste.
Lean Six Sigma is a quantitative data driven methodology based on statistics, process understanding and process control. It enables sustained and continuous process improvement trough analyzing processes in a consistent and inherent matter. The goal of Lean Six Sigma is to reduce both variance and waste.
IT’s involvement is the gathering of data, the visualization (a graph or picture says more than a 1000 words) and the provision of analytical tools for data drilling, checking trends etc.
For sure this methodology will be used within ICT also as some critical systems can simply not be down; and backups must be correct (in itself related to Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery); and IT helpdesk must deliver quality service.

The main re-orientation however is to make IT a business enabler, instead of a cost center. As Jerry McGuire said “Let me help you!”, we want IT to help the business, and be involved, and even get to know the business processes more in order to provide better fitting service; in tool selection, tool usage, ideas like ‘Excel for all, all for Excel’, software, mail-groups, etc.
Let’s do this together, since better usage of IT systems will make the working of a department more efficient, leading to cost reduction.

The more efficient and in-depth usage including monitoring of the Planned Maintenance System (PMS) is a long term investment strategy. For example we initiated a feedback flow of information from our Ulysses Systems Task Assistant PMS-database towards our new-building-department. We inform them about breakdowns of a specific piece of equipment with a designated function on board of a vessel, so another maker or type can be initially installed on a new vessel preventing high cost repairs, or even worse, off-hires.
The data quality in the system is of great importance as “garbage in is garbage out”.
More over TA’s intuitive interface and user-friendly design ensures that staff and crew require little training, significantly reducing training costs whilst improving productivity. Ulysses supports the performance of the user by use of advanced and unique ergonomics via Task Orientation. These are applied to all our modules, which include planned maintenance, purchasing, crewing, document management, on board operations and quality management.

Consultancy & Services
We look at our internal business and departments as customers. These customers expect excellent service; and while widening the target-customer group, we now offer ICT services to external customers in the Maritime Industry.
Our approach in helping clients is to provide the right type of service at the proper time for the anticipated need.
Cloud computing (Software As A Service, SAAS); office and vessel support services, data population, training service and digitization service are all part of the service list.
PMS consulting services consisting of maintenance & upgrades, setup of the generic database, customizations to the application, linking with data population and business flow mapping; is probably the most robust service we offer.
Making use of the Follow The Sun service for ICT vessel support for example can be very flexible and cost saving for other ship owners.
Project management, strategic software selection, interfacing and migration projects are all experience based knowledge we gained through the years.

As a conclusion, let’s take back the initial question: disaster or opportunity for ICT in crisis times.
As indicated, it is very much an opportunity that we have taken. It will however not happen by itself, and it is also company and situation dependent. It is not mission impossible but it’s not mission ‘easy’ either.

Key is doing targeted investments to in the end – even on short term – save money.

The main opportunity for ICT is to be a business enabler; since only reliable, good managed vessels will in crisis times get cargo – and this is exactly what we want.