“The office starts with the best intentions, but it’s the captain who is often stuck…”
What do they say about best intentions again? Despite agreement on the need for collecting digital information onboard, consensus on how to collect it is harder to come by. We’ve met many captains through the years. While captains understand that their organizations make business decisions based on onboard information, they don’t want their primary activities – safely operating a vessel while protecting crew, cargo and the environment – to take a back seat. If getting that information to shore isn’t easy and intuitive, frustrations mount, precious time is wasted, and the quality of data input ultimately suffers.
There are many things to consider when you’re looking to implement any data-collection method in the wheelhouse of a workboat. Based on our discussions with a number of captains this year, here are some of their ideas that will help decrease their frustration and boost the quality of data coming back to head office.
- Duped by DuplicationThe majority of captains we spoke to mentioned that they’re required to enter the same information more than once. Typically this is because they must keep logs but also enter that information into a Vessel Management System, spreadsheet, form, or some other way to collect it digitally. If a captain has to enter a drill in their logs, make it a one-step process for them to enter the other details about that drill, you’ll make a new friend in that captain too.
- Software can be more valuable if it’s beautifulThe terms ‘simple’ and ‘user friendly’ have now been abused and overused within the software industry, as pointed out here. Steve Jobs knew what it meant to have beautiful software – users had a pleasant experience and it was intuitive. Intuitiveness can be your biggest ally when looking to get captains and crew onboard with software. The older generation of captains who may have come up through the hawsepipe admittedly struggle with technology, but also never had to read any manual when they got their new iPhone. The lesson here is that intuitive software isn’t just limited to the consumer market or smart phones. Maritime companies need to raise their standards of usability when seeking business software. In the long run, you’ll be happy you did.
- Remove email from the process
Some captains describe having to download Word documents, fill them out, save them, attach them to an email, and finally send to all the correct people. This 5-step process could be shortened to two steps pretty easily with an intuitive system: enter information, submit. Forcing a captain to find a file, save it on the computer, then attach it to an email can put them out of their technical comfort zones. And remember that the more steps you have in your data-collection process, the greater the risk it’s going to fail.
- Sync and don’t sink
Losing data that you’ve already entered ranks up there with one of the most frustrating software experiences (for anyone, not just captains!). Many captains cited experiences of using online forms that required a persistent Internet connection. If that connection is lost while entering information and they click “submit”, it loses their information. In order to mitigate frustration and the risk of a software implementation failure, you should make it so your captains can enter information locally onboard and save it. When a connection becomes available, the system should do the sending in the background so they can move on to their next task or go off watch.