It used to be that when a vessel left the dock, all the decisions about ship control, steering and navigation were made aboard the ship. Masters and the other ship's officers relied on their training, experience and judgment to safely transport vessels to their destinations.
But technology has changed all that, first by making new information available on the bridge, and then by improving ship-to-shore communications. Now a new breed of software has taken it to a new level by virtually connecting the bridge to shore-based decision-makers.
Jeppesen Fleet Manager and NS5 Enterprise are two of the systems in this evolving area of the market that share key goals and features.
Jeppesen's Fleet Manager lets personnel on shore monitor a vessel's progress in real-time and compare it to norms. For example, this screen capture shows data relating to a ship's roll. (Photo courtesy Jeppesen)
Launched last year, Jeppesen's Fleet Manager is a subscription-based software package that lets shore-side managers monitor vessels' progress in real-time and compare it to predefined plans. Built-in analytics provide voyage data that vessel-owners can use to improve fleet efficiency.
"We focus not only on getting info from the ship to the shore, but also providing shore-side managers with intelligent info that allows for exception management — filtering through all the data that comes across and finding where different criteria doesn't perform to plan," said senior product manager Ron Moody. "It provides info about the fleet from anywhere in world, and integrates and allows for during- and post-voyage reporting and analysis in a single location."
The system tracks things such as distance covered, time passed and fuel consumption, and compares the planned route and historical track against predicted ETAs, motion and weather warnings, and slow-down alerts. It can also alert shore-side managers about the events or conditions that could affect voyages, allowing them to adjust or create alternate plans.
Land-based users log in through a secure Internet browser. The software's capacity grows when it's integrated with Jeppesen's proprietary C-MAP charts and Vessel and Voyage Optimization Solution to give a comprehensive view of fleet operations. Designed to provide data for managers in all areas of the business, from engineering to finance, Fleet Manager processes information and provides a dashboard summary rather than forcing users to sift through it on their own.
"It's an almost red light/green system that shows which things are OK and which seem to be having issues," Moody said. "You can drill down on any of them, but we try to interpret the info that's coming across so time is spent on ships having issues instead of finding out which ships are having issues."
The system is tailored to suit each customer's needs. "Each company runs its business a little differently," he said. "So we'll come in and understand the requirements of the customer and design a solution for them."
"Depending on what's really driving a shift in schedule — let's say a vessel looks like it's going to be arriving late — the shore-side manager can get that info sooner rather than later, have the dialog with the ship's master, and decide if they need to begin making changes at the port, or if there are adjustments that can be made on board," Moody said. "It allows shore-side managers to be proactive instead of reactive. That in-voyage part of it is a big value for Fleet Manager, but also, the post voyage is more important to engineering and finance in terms of fuel reporting and overall health of the ship."
The user interface, which works on Windows-based systems, is adjustable and users can zoom in to the vessel approach or harbor charts and review data from previous voyages or run reports.
NS5 Enterprise is a redesign of an existing ABS Nautical Systems package called SafeNet. It's currently in the pilot phase, but will soon be released for general availability. A comprehensive solution for the management of shipping operations, it's module-based — users build the system that meets their needs by choosing from a wide menu of modules, from maintenance and dry-dock to human resources/crew management, quality compliance, technical and regulatory document management, hull inspection, on-demand reporting and more.
Configuring the modules to allow different access creates a way for users with different responsibilities to see only what they need to.
"From a maritime perspective, there are two different views for different types of users," said Fernando Lehrer, vice president for product development at ABS Nautical Systems. "You've got the onboard user, who has some interest in doing his maintenance and operational and purchasing data, and then you've got your office users.
"In this industry, you need to minimize the amount of training and complexity that's required," he said. "People on board are already busy enough. The last thing you want to do is throw them new software to learn. It's a very user-friendly interface."
Similar to Jeppesen's system, NS5 Enterprise is browser-based, which means data is all stored elsewhere. Both shore-side and ship-based users have access to a wealth of information about the vessel as it is collected.
"We have a module called voyage management to exchange real-time info on the operation of a ship that allows you track location, position and speed, and â€¢ we're developing a new energy and environment function within this module," Lehrer said. "It's a big topic for the shipping industry right now. Together with R&D, we're enhancing our module to allow us to track for fuel consumption to minimize fuel on board, and the ability for senior management to have real-time access for how ships are doing with environment compliance. Voyage routing and other things are also available through that module."
All modules are available with the system, and unlocked with an activation key, which means there's no downloading or installation necessary.
"The idea and the objective is that this type of product will help all players in the industry achieve their work in a more safe and efficient way," Lehrer said. "There's a fine line between data overload and being efficient."
San Diego-based Boatracs Inc. is building a software system to provide operational information to workboat, offshore service and commercial fishing boat owners. The Web-based system is built on the architecture of TransIT Solutions' TransFusion Network shipping and logistics application, which features mapping, messaging and tracking abilities and other features. TransFusion integrates with Qualcomm's OmniTRACS and Mobile Computing Platform satellite solutions, and will integrate current and emerging maritime information systems like AIS (Automatic Identification System).
As other systems reach the marketplace, fleet owners will have an increasing number of choices, and an unprecedented amount of information at their fingertips.
"At the end of the day, the ship master is still the one making the decisions," Moody said. "But we're trying to help them make decisions with this info and hopefully that translates to better fuel savings and schedule integrity."