News Article 17/09/2008

User friendly system continuously enhanced (Tanker operator, August September 2008, p. 38-39)

Leading software developer Ulysses Systems has continued to develop its fully integrated system – Task Assistant - for both shipboard and shoreside use.

This system is claimed to be very user friendly as it allows the user to access the task to be undertaken and information needed without scrolling through pages of information, which might be irrelevant to what was required at the time.

There are around 50 plus functions available for each role at present and once the user has quickly learned how to navigate the system, the task to be undertaken can be speedily accessed, Ulysses claimed.

Task orientation is the key differentiation of Ulysses: Task orientation is an activity based way to organise information so that it appears to user not only when he or she looks for it but more when they involved in a task that might need it. This is extremely important in making the system user friendly and even more important in rendering a system that helps seafarers with their jobs, Ulysses said. People learn when they are given information, which they did not know, that is relevant to what they are doing. Structuring a system so that relevance is achieved is the key to usability and value of an enterprise software system.

Only those authorised to undertake certain tasks are allowed access to the relevant pages. The delegated persons can have access to either part or the whole system depending on what the requirements are. Once logged on, the system will show the user what he or she has access to and an audit trail can if needed automatically track the user’s actions.

Also Task Assistant pre-emptively provides the user with relevant information from various sources within the enterprise that could be relevant to the task at hand. Since the user may not be aware of information contained in the system that may be needed for the execution of a task, the task orientation presents the user with all relevant information at the right time in the execution of the task.

One example is maintenance tasks, maintenance schedules and work to be undertaken can be seen, including specifics such as sorting by ship, by fleet, by machinery, including work schedule, spares orders etc. For someone like a fleet manager who gets involved only when others call him in, a view of this information can be very different from that of a chief engineer who is involved with the same ship every day. Ulysses role-task orientation ensures the right configuration for the right role.

Ulysses had found that the marine industry has neither the time or the budgets to train officers to use unintuitive software. Hence, the software has been specifically developed for multi-tasking users with a lot of logical indexing structure tailored to each role and task, resulting in the ease of navigation of the system which is of prime importance.

Thus the common requirement that information for a certain user only makes sense if combined with other relevant information is fully accounted for. A prime example is a group purchasing manager who needs to see spares ordering information in such a way as to back up his subordinates and ensure the vessels were supplied in time as well as to check whether pricing criteria had been adhered to.

The problem today is that the number of qualified seafarers is decreasing while the number of tasks, which need to be undertaken on board is increasing. This results in more risk assessments, KPIs and other tasks, which all involve a certain amount of form filling, including TMSA for tankers. This means that a lot more information needs to be collected in forms for the above tasks, and a lot more relevant know how needs to be provided to users at the time of need to ensure quality and co-ordination.

“If you had around 100 vessels in your fleet, you could be collecting and using information on 700 forms per day,” director Panteleimon Pantelis said. So organising this information is clearly a priority. A maritime system such as Ulysses organises the information relevant to role task and context.

Accident Investigation
Accident reports can be compared with the crewing model enabling the shore staff to see which seafarers, vessels etc have had the most accidents and analyse the reasons why also to prevent similar situations occurring again. The results can be saved as a ‘Word’ document, or in an Excel spreadsheet.

Several reports can be compiled using the stored data, such as a list of injuries, accidents, non-compliances, records of chart and publications upkeep plus seafarers qualifications and certificates, among others.

For example, seafarers’ cargo operation experience can be recorded and ascertained using the seafarer audit voyage management system, which will give all the relevant details of his or her records, qualifications and certificates and even which type of vessels they had previously served on.

The non-compliance reports are fully integrated with the other tasks. Ulysses explained that if they were separated, it would be extra work to reconcile all activities relevant to resolving a non conformance; activities such as maintenance, purchasing, crew management etc, with the underlying non compliance. By using an integrated system, the lifecycle of a non compliance can be assembled with all the related activities so at to help co-ordinate the resolution, ensure process control, enable statistical analysis, etc. Task Assistant blends these tasks with all other corporate processes to create what Ulysses believed was a fundamental improvement in the way a company benefited from information and information technology.

“You need to have software that virtually enables the user to teach him or herself how to use the system. We tend to train the trainer and this takes around four hours to cover all the models available in the system,” Pantelis explained.

As mentioned, the biggest problem today is the shortage of seafarers. The system can help as a by-product by keeping a company well informed of seafarer experience and thus primed for most eventualities.

The system is continuously being updated and Ulysses has offices worldwide that can offer support. The company will tailor-make the content of a system for a new client, and ship if needed as it would obviously cause major problems if a maintenance system intended for a tanker turns out to be a system meant for a containership once installed.

The idea is to start the system configuration from a pre configured platform for as many of the tasks as possible and ensure that the platform is readily upgraded as situations, rules and regulations, equipment on board and so on changes.

Ulysses is used by a number of tanker operating companies who are finding it more and more essential to control the quality of their operations, the company claimed.