We have some exciting news to announce—Helm CONNECT is officially going mobile!
Over the past few years, one of the biggest requests from our customers is for a mobile version of Helm CONNECT. Many companies have only one computer onboard—usually in the wheelhouse—yet daily checklists require crew members to go all over the vessel to check parts and take readings. This forces them to record the numbers on paper or a mobile device then go back to the main computer to enter the data into Helm CONNECT, which is redundant and inefficient and can lead to errors.
We recognize this issue and have seen firsthand how using Helm CONNECT on mobile devices has helped some of our customers streamline their processes and create a more positive user experience. So, after many conversations, we decided that this is the year to start working on this highly-anticipated request. But before we started, we wanted to learn as much as we could about the critical functionality companies would require from a mobile version and what we should prioritize for development, so we created a survey.
Surveying Our Customers
In preparation for the development of Helm CONNECT Mobile, we surveyed a group of 30 customers across six different verticals, ranging from a small company with just three vessels to a large one with 283 vessels. When selecting the companies to participate, we tried to include a range of sizes and markets to represent the total makeup of Helm CONNECT users. Here’s a breakdown of the group we chose:
The Mobile Survey Questions
We asked this group of companies four important questions:
- How often do your vessels have Internet connectivity?
- Do you have an Internet connection in the engine room?
- Do your vessels have a local area network (LAN)?
- What mobile device would your crew use for Helm CONNECT?
The purpose of these questions was to determine the main use case for users at all levels of an organization. Learning more about the connectivity, network structures, and types of devices that would be used gave us a better understanding of what companies would need from a mobile version of Helm CONNECT in terms of offline functionality, security, and the user interface (UI). The responses we collected will impact the way we prioritize our design and identify which features are critical for launch and which ones can come later.
1 – How often do your vessels have Internet connectivity?
The first question we asked was how often vessels have Internet connectivity so we could understand how important offline functionality would be in a mobile version of Helm CONNECT. Of the companies surveyed, 80% reported having connectivity 90% of the time or more, with all pilotage and offshore companies having connectivity 100% of the time.
2 – Do you have an Internet connection in the engine room?
Although the majority of companies reported almost always having an Internet connection onboard we knew that didn’t mean they have connectivity everywhere on the vessel. In fact, only 53% of companies reported having a connection in their engine rooms. When looking at the responses by market, 100% of passenger vessel and offshore operators said they had connectivity in their engine rooms.
The results of this question were very important. The engine room is where a large portion of maintenance routines and checklists take place so, if several companies don’t have connectivity there, prioritizing offline functionality for Helm CONNECT Mobile will be important. If we had only asked companies whether they had connectivity onboard versus where they had connectivity onboard, we might have created a product that wasn’t useable in the most important place for it to be used! Based on the responses to this question, we know that our mobile solution must work offline for specific workflows, such as checklists and tasks.
3 – Do your boats have a local area network (LAN)?
We asked companies if they have a LAN onboard their vessels to learn more about the extent to which we must build offline functionality into a mobile version of Helm CONNECT. LAN’s create a network onboard the vessel that reduces the need for a mobile version that functions offline. As only 57% of companies reported having a LAN onboard, we know that making offline connectivity of some kind is something we need to address.
We expected to see a positive correlation between companies that have a LAN and those with connectivity in the engine room. However, while this appears to be the case when looking at the total numbers, the same doesn’t hold true when looking at individual results. Of the 17 companies that said they had a LAN, six reported that they don’t have connectivity in the engine room. In addition, five of the companies that reported having connectivity in the engine room said they don’t have a LAN. This suggests that there are multiple ways to get connectivity and that some companies may have their main computer in places other than the wheelhouse.
4 – What mobile device would your crew use for Helm CONNECT?
There were two reasons for asking companies about the type of device their crew would use onboard:
- Asking if the device used would belong to the company or the crew gave us a sense of the type and level of security needed for a mobile version. Allowing Helm CONNECT to be used on a crew member’s personal device creates a higher security risk because once it leaves the vessel, it’s only as safe as the precautions the crew member chooses to take. By contrast, company devices always remain on the vessel so pose a lower risk of a security breach. When asked this question, 77% reported that crew members would be using company-provided devices. Interestingly, there was no correlation between company size and the type of device that would be used.
- Asking about the size of the device (phone versus tablet) helped us decide how to prioritize building the user interface and which device size to optimize for first. The results for this question were relatively close, with 57% reporting they would use a tablet and 43% reporting they would use a cellphone. Because these numbers were so close, we’ll need to make sure Helm CONNECT is mobile-friendly on all types of screens.
Running this survey gave us a better understanding of how to prioritize the development of Helm CONNECT Mobile, which we’ll begin working on in Helm CONNECT Version 1.23. In this first version, we hope to optimize tasks for both phones and tablets as this is the key workflow crew members want to perform on mobile devices. While offline functionality will be a priority for certain workflows in the future, it won’t be available just yet.
If you’re interested in participating in the validation of Helm CONNECT Mobile and receiving updates on its development, please get in touch with our team! We’d love to learn more about how you’ll be using it and what features you’d like to see.