As their tagline states, Harbor Docking and Towing (HDT) is “powered by innovation”. Not only was this Lake Charles-based harbor assist company an early adopter of Helm CONNECT, but they were also the first to use our ShipTracks CONNECT package, an integration we developed with our partner, AIS-provider ShipTracks.
For the past five years, the person driving HDT’s innovation has been its president, John Buchanan. He started with HDT in 2016 to transition its 60 employees and fleet of seven tugs from paper to an electronic system in preparation for the coming Subchapter M regulations. After 30 years working for the US Coast Guard, John definitely had the skills and knowledge needed for this momentous task.
After evaluating every software system available on the market, John chose Helm CONNECT for its intuitive user interface and a feature roadmap that aligned with HDT’s vision of innovation. Just as important to him was Helm’s dedication to HDT’s success. HDT first implemented Helm CONNECT Jobs and the Forms module then added new modules as we developed them. “Helm CONNECT has given us better top-down visibility over our boats, and has helped us achieve a smooth transition into Subchapter M,” John told us. “Right now, 75 percent of our fleet have already completed their annual inspections, many with no worklist items because everything was already taken care of. This puts us well above the curve for compliance. Helm CONNECT allows us to quickly put our hands on everything the Coast Guard needs to see for compliance. It has also taken our maintenance from a “run to failure” approach to a really robust preventive maintenance system that has saved us a tremendous amount of downtime and unexpected casualties. This, in turn, saves us revenue.”
As the first company to adopt the ShipTracks CONNECT package, HDT helped shape it into what it is today. John was introduced to ShipTracks at our booth at The International Workboat Show where he received a demo of the integration in its early stages. “One challenge we were experiencing at the time was getting our data into Helm CONNECT,” John recalled. “It needed to be entered manually which was time-consuming and sometimes led to errors. When I saw how ShipTracks could push data seamlessly into Helm CONNECT, I knew it would make our dispatching operation more efficient. The benefit of connecting these two systems was so obvious that we jumped onboard right away.”
Today, HDT is very pleased with the ShipTracks CONNECT package and credits it with a noticeable improvement in their dispatching efficiency. “It has allowed us to automate things and improve our data quality,” John told us. “For example, before the integration, our dispatchers typed up each order individually and had to research things about the vessel, such as its gross tonnage, which is a fee we use in our tariff. If the dispatcher grabbed the data from the wrong site or if they made a typo, we could mischarge our customers and potentially lose out on revenue. But with the integration, our dispatchers can create an order by just grabbing the vessel and dragging it to the order slot. The vessel data from ShipTracks then populates the order automatically. What used to take our dispatchers up to 10 minutes now takes them only 30 seconds, and we know the information we’re using is accurate.”
One feature John finds particularly useful is the alarms that announce when vessels are entering and leaving port. For their dispatchers, these alarms act as an audible reminder to not only complete their own orders but also their competitors’ orders so they can track their share of the market in the port. The alarms have also improved efficiency and saved fuel by ensuring they’re always on time for their jobs. “Knowing exactly where a ship is and being able to dispatch in a timely manner saves us fuel because the tugs aren’t being dispatched late and having to race over to the job at an inefficient speed and burning more fuel than is necessary. Having tugs that are always on time keeps everyone on schedule and adds to the overall efficiency of the port.”
From a management perspective, ShipTracks has given John better situational awareness of his fleet, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when he isn’t always physically in the office. “I wear a lot of different hats at the company so I’m not always at my desk to see and hear what’s going on,” John told us. “But with ShipTracks, the push of information out using alarms really lets me know what’s going on without having to waste time looking in the system. I really like knowing when my tugs are moving without orders. It lets me see quickly if something has gone wrong and keeps me up-to-date on the status of the fleet.”
The integration has helped HDT improve the overall efficiency of their organization, allowing dispatchers to take on additional tasks that they wouldn’t have had the capacity to take on previously, such as accounts receivable and complete vessel tracking. “Helm CONNECT is a record-keeping IT system and ShipTracks in an information system, so combining the two creates a tactile system that allows you to make real-time decisions. With margins getting narrower and narrower in the tug industry, there is less room for error, so we’re always looking for ways to improve our efficiency. Having a tactile system like the ShipTracks CONNECT package really helps with that. I would absolutely recommend this integration to other harbor towage companies. You will realize efficiencies in your operations with it, especially with the new features they’re adding later this year, like fully automated order completion and competitor tracking.”
When asked about technology and the future of the industry, John left us with this insight, “At HDT, we lean heavily on technology to streamline our operations and we see that as the way of the future. In the next five to ten years, we expect the rest of the harbor towage industry to move in this direction too by embracing new and more efficient tugs like the hybrids we have, utilizing more technology and integrations, like the one that Helm and ShipTracks offers, and using more remote monitoring tools to help capture problems before they actually become problems. With margins getting slimmer, this is the only way to keep up. If you don’t embrace technology moving forward, you’re going to fall behind.”
To learn more about the ShipTracks CONNECT package and how it can improve the efficiency of your operations, contact our team today!