News Article 18/02/2009

Is monitoring via software more or less important in a low market?
By Panteleimon Pantelis, Ulysses Systems (UK) Ltd., (Shipping International Monthly Review, January 2009, p.29-30)

a) Why is information management especially important in a low market?

Anyone who has read management books has probably heard about how leading companies manage information in order to accelerate decision making, preparation, efficiency, etc.
A low stock market and a low charter market are environments when good theory is found interesting but rarely adopted. In such an environment, why pay now for something hopefully attainable later, when the company is barely overcoming costs today?
In the shipping business, an information-centric organisation could be described as one that pays a lot of attention to how information is internally distributed and disseminated, an organisation that distributes information to the right person at the right time, without spending tremendous conscious effort achieving this.

b) What would be the bottom line advantages of better information distribution?

  • Earlier risk assessment and a better chance of managing risk more cost effectively
  • Better preparation before performing critical operations where sub-optimal procedural variations can cost a lot of money
  • Prevention of incidents arising from uninformed areas in the organisation
  • Saving costs by having less people minding paperwork and putting more attention on optimising spending and operation
  • Faster vetting approval on tankers and less time with sub-optimal approvals
  • Far better internal compliance with new cost and efficiency policies and procedures

c) How would the above advantages be achieved using enterprise software?
If the enterprise software is designed to know all the processes in an enterprise, how they are open to specific opportunities and hazards, how they affect each other, and how they affect corporate goals, the system itself can assist in the coordination of the right information to the right person at the right time.

This is not hard to do. Enterprise systems have to know how things are done in the enterprise -otherwise they are too difficult to use. Few handheld organizers do much more than one function in a way that is convenient. This is because they are based on having many functions, not on having convenient functions that people can use. They are rarely designed with specific users in mind.

d) What is the primary factor for successful information management?
Better information management is dependent primarily on convenience:

Email has experienced tremendous growth, simply by virtue of its convenience. In fact, many would say that email collects more information than they would ideally wish for. This proves a very important fact - convenience is the key to collecting information.  Therefore, an information-centric organisation must understand that information management starts with the recognition of the need for CONVENIENT systems.

Systems must be proven to be usable and able to collect the information you want. We cannot bully people and train them to report. This has never worked in the marine industry because ships have high turnover, are remotely located, and are run by multi tasking managers. No senior manager can be expected to learn two or three complicated applications in order to carry out his job. So how do we expect a captain or a chief officer to do so?

Email is a success on board due to its intuitive convenience, but it also has its shortcomings. Email does not easily file and disseminate information beyond providing somewhat labor-intensive means for personal filing. Personal filing is definitely not the right tool for information distribution. For example, company staff that are not yet aware of the relevance of a piece of information for the machinery defect cannot be expected to look for communications related to the defect in e-mails going back a year. So how would they be expected to anticipate the existence of this information? The distribution of important corporate information must be as close to automatic as possible and must find the user with the right information at the right time with minimal required dissemination from the end user.

For success in CONVENIENCE, we have to go beyond email, which only alerts the receiver when the sender sends the information. We must be able to put the information in front of the user at the time that the user is likely to need it, even if the user is not consciously looking for it. We all know that people will not often rummage through records without knowing whether there is anything of value to the current activity. As a consequence, critical corporate information is often overlooked because it is difficult to find. For example, how would the junior superintendent know anything about the condition of the heating coils in the forward deep tank if he or the on board officer find no mention of the condition or when the heating coils were last tested? How would the superintendent know how promptly stand by spares can be sent if he does not know the weight and size of each component?

e) What is Ulysses Systems’ Approach?
The Task Assistant has been designed precisely for the purpose of taking email and customary shipping applications such as Planned Maintenance and adding elements that are needed for success. Email must be enhanced in order to serve as a tool for the dissemination of information and not just its distribution. Consequently, maritime applications must also be converted into tools that are actually used for the recording of information by adding significant enhancements to their usability and convenience.

The Task Assistant differs from any other software in a single important way - the structure in which all information increments reside is very rich but follows common sense. Thus, each piece of information requires less work to place in this structure, and less work to find.

A software system must be designed with expertise in solving both the corporate experience delivery problem and the software usability problem. They are basically the same exercise anyway. Software that knows about how shipping works and makes processes more transparent, and thus more efficient, is the key to making a company operate better than its competitors, especially during a low market period.