Why Major Horizontal DM systems and BPM systems are not designed for the maritime industry.
"...In shipping we expect a master has to manage 30 documentary processes through the system. For other officers it’s between 10 and 25. The captain however is not a clerical worker and neither are the other officers. They have far more important responsibilities..."
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Why Major Horizontal DM systems and BPM systems are not designed for the maritime industry.

In the maritime industry in typical Document Management systems we emulate about 300 processes with up to 6 users per ship. So for 20 ships we have 300 processes and about 100 users. What’s more a user like a master may require to personally get involved with 30 of these workflow processes.

In industries for which platforms like Opentext, Filenet and Sharepoint prevail there are often only 10 processes within these systems and perhaps hundreds of thousands of users with one process per user being the norm. In the case of government organisations millions of user’s one document/workflow process each. In short the revenue is large the processes are few. Lots of revenue and the need to be hugely scalable which is where that revenue is spend when allocating development funds.

The need for a typical user like a master to learn 30 processes with multiple workflow stages each, or so though the system is nonexistent. So what’s the incentive for large document management companies to get involved with the subtleties of shipping and its multi-tasking users?

In shipping we expect a master has to manage 30 documentary processes through the system. For other officers it’s between 10 and 25. The captain however is not a clerical worker and neither are the other officers. They have far more important responsibilities. Ashore, an insurance clerk requires getting involved in perhaps 5 processes and clerical documentation may be all he or she gets involved with.

Lest take an example of a incident report;

Co-ordination is by far the highest value feature of an incident or unexpected event. Co-ordination could be defined as providing information at the time of need to people who are offering different skill sets to a process.

For example a leak of the hydraulic piping is first noticed by an able seaman who reports it to the bosun who report to the chief officer, master and chief engineer. The master needs to mention the defect to the shore staff because although simple it could repeat itself along the ship’s deck if it’s an external pitting problem, and involves procedural changes in case hydraulic cargo valves fail to activate from the cargo control room or in case the leaks occur at night when the deck is wet and cause pollution or a deck access hazard. Also the shore staff must make sure that when the officers on board are repatriated, their reliefs are aware of the problem especially of it can’t be repaired at the root cause immediately, for example by repairing all the pitted pipes at once.

On shore the QA needs to approve changes to the human processes that will be modified to apply, while the superintendent needs to get to the bottom of the cause, in case the root cause is a problem that can spread and is not isolated on this vessel. For example poorly fitted pipe couplings at the yard on a series of new vessels.

Each participant has his or her own duties with respect to the “workflow stages” involved. The QA may want to initially approve set of temporary workaround processes (change management) and then monitor the processes monthly until the root cause is resolved so as to change the valve operating processes and deck access processes to their status before the defect. The new building manager may want to know when the problem is diagnosed so as to activate the new-building guarantee claim process. The fleet manager may just need to monitor that the defects and related remedial action processes are closed in time and that the company learns from the defects.

All these are different workflow stages of particular interest to each role. Multiply this by the number of occurrences on each ship and the number of ships and we are faced with a co-ordination challenge that is well worth addressing.

If co-ordination is not addressed there are a variety of problems; People don’t all learn from the occurrences either at the time it is happening or in future, the occurrences may not be resolved in time, there will be a need to occupy point men to co-ordinate lots of workflow stages that are unrelated to their own expertise, for example the quality manager might need to get involved in recording experience on a technical level because the technical staff does not have the appropriate tools to manage such a lessons learnt system, etc.

Co-ordination is by far the most important value of document management in the maritime sector. It occupies allot of time of senior staff without necessarily getting them to focus on the real core of the problems that they really need to get involved with. This can also cause poor audit performance when auditors look into how problems are resolved.

Co-ordination requires for example workflow configurations that relate more than one document to each workflow stage. In this example the oil leak is related to a temporary procedural change when pressing up the hydraulics. Each document in each workflow stage also requires adequate separation of unrelated items otherwise people reading unrelated defects for example get confused and lose focus. Just as important is the need to merge closely related occurrences and processes in an intuitive fashion. Although this need for co-ordination is widespread in all industries other industries have far more support staff to help managers keep track of the workflow stages. Not so in shipping.

Also each industry has its own relevance criteria so a defect about an oil leak does not affect deck access in all industries or terminal vetting reports, nor new-buildings, nor cargo valves. So the company setting up the workflows must have allot of experience in the industry allot of concern for keeping things clear and simple and a very good software platform designed for this.

In conclusion co-ordination using workflow requires deep domain expertise from the software provider and a platform designed for the job. Outside the shipping there are different platforms for mapping processes, for sharing documents, for defect tracking root cause and risks etc. On board ships this approach is not feasible because of the separate systems requiring separate store and forward communications suitable for discontinuous communications in the maritime industry. Also such systems need to all be used by some major users such as the master. If systems are disjointed the users on board will use them to a minimum.

Co-ordination in the maritime industry requires the combination of features of many different platforms used in other industries all in one.

In addition the senior staff involvement and marginal software support on board requires solutions much more tailored to the special needs of the industry.

Whereas process management is today primarily the goal of document management and BPM in any industry, in shipping it is more about co-ordination. The difference is that co-ordination is seriously time critical. The main difference however is that a senior manager such as a master needs to co-ordinate 30 fairly complex processes through such a system not just 1 ”paper pushing” processes and that is on top of his job as a senior manager and risk co-ordinator.

If we take the analogy of a secretary to describe a productivity tool such as an electronic document management system, then this is like comparing the sophistication of work of an office boy helping in the accounts department to the job of the secretary of a company or the secretary of a senior politician.

Since large DM companies do not get revenue from sales of systems to small companies, with multi tasking users, why should such systems be extensively developed by them? There may well be specialist software development partners for sectors with small to medium size companies but how much convenience can they engineer into the system that does not have that convenience built in?

The convenience we mean is: Knowing what stage in incident reporting requires looking at past cases of a similar problem, what stage needs reference to current remedial action, what stage needs reference to a contributing concurrent problem, what processes may need reference to the occurrence much later after it has been resolved, etc.

On top of this there is the need for technology development to integrate with other marine systems and to replicate documents across discontinuous communications.

Since 1996, Ulysses Systems has provided management solutions to ship-owners and ship managers. Its award winning software, Task Assistant® enables both office and seagoing personnel to work more efficiently and effectively. Task Assistant® is intuitive software designed to require minimal training. Managers should expect savings in the order of $90,000 per vessel per year purely from minimizing information gaps. Ulysses has offices in the London, Piraeus, India, Singapore.
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