09 Aug 2017
Peter Rowand
Marketing and Business Development

Collecting Ideas

The dawning of the “big data” era in the maritime industry underscores more than ever, the importance of collecting quality data to feed the business analytics effort trying to glean the best strategies for cutting costs, boosting fuel efficiency, minimizing equipment wear and maximizing revenues.

Vessels across the industry are pumping out mega streams of data, fed virtually every second by thousands of shipboard sensors, as well as data points generated by administrative, operations, maintenance and compliance applications. That ocean of data is in turn funneled to shore-side executives and analysts looking for insight into patterns and trends that can be turned into timely recommendations for improving the performance of their fleet.

Those strategic business decisions, however, will be useless unless the underlying data is reliable, timely, and accurate. As they say, garbage in (data input), garbage out (data output). Never has this adage been more relevant in the maritime market than today, with ships transmitting information from an estimated 3,000 to 7,000 sensors per vessel, and as the business of running and maintaining a ship grows increasingly automated.

The biggest obstacle to providing quality analytical output is the quality of the incoming data stream. That quality relies on your crew’s engagement level with the software tools they need to collect critical data. Much of that rests on two factors: the user interface and the intuitive nature of the application.

It’s not uncommon to see software described as both user-friendly and intuitive. Those attributes may seem interchangeable, but they are not. And the ubiquitous presence of the former does not guarantee the critical approach of the latter.

The graphical user interface (GUI or ‘gooey’) is seen as the most user-friendly approach to opening up complex tasks to non-technical users. Often colorful, heavy on the graphics and the use of simple actions (buttons, touchscreens, pull-down menus), GUIs adorn virtually every business application, and for good reason. They back end the technology and show users how to access that functionality in simple, non-threatening ways.

But “gooey” isn’t sticky. A pretty face and easy-to-push buttons are not enough to drive consistent, accurate data collection. People naturally resist change. Unfamiliar icons, too many layers of screens, and or overly complex or unnatural workflows – no matter how graphically dressed up – will depress crew interest and enthusiasm for using the product.

These people are already insanely busy during their shifts – they won’t respond well to interruptive technology, i.e. anything that slows them down or is seen as making their job more difficult than it has to be. They don’t want to have to think about or invest much time into using an application. Resistance and frustration leads to rushed, sloppy, uneven data collection.

Successful applications go beyond the GUI, by building on and reflecting the intuitive experiences of the user, leaving the user wanting to come back again.

By consulting with workboat personnel to incorporate the familiar into the parameters of the end product, developers are able to simply and graphically illustrate logical workflows that let workers perform their prescribed tasks efficiently, effectively and in a consistent manner, creating buy-in, promoting accuracy and saving time and money.

Typically, the more time spent in training, the greater the risk the crew won’t use the system. But if the application mirrors the user experience, then the need for formal training is significantly reduced, if not eliminated, which helps keep down the total cost of ownership (TCO) of the application. The crew uses its experiential knowledge subconsciously to learn the new application and is able to quickly get up and running.

An intuitive interface also cuts implementation time and cost while boosting adoption rates. That willingness to engage with the technology speeds ROI as the resulting improvements in data collection produces better business intelligence insights, which not only save even more time and money, but help to safeguard equipment longevity and customer relationships.

Sticking with the “familiar” through the inevitable subsequent upgrades and additions of greater functionality, will also help drive a faster transition to the improved technology, again, boosting productivity and holding down costs

When evaluating application options – these questions will help determine how intuitive they are:

  • Are the interface controls easy to navigate? Are the results predictable – Do users have to think about what an icon does?
  • Is the design understandable and laid out in a consistent and intuitive way, i.e. “capable of being understood without explanation”? Is the work flow clear enough or familiar enough, to enable users to perform functions without needing to refer to documentation?
  • Are you able to provide the crew with one simple view of all tasks assigned to that particular vessel?
  • How much time is involved, and how much support is needed, to set up and implement the software?
  • Does the system require weeks of training (and lost productivity) or can you start to use it right away? What is your anticipated rate of adoption across your fleet?
  • Is the software configurable, allowing you to set up templates, checklists and inspections that reflect how you do business?