This paper identifies 7 challenges faced by shipping companies all over the world. The data is gathered by observing many shipping companies using different solutions, policies, procedures and strategies. We provide a recipe of how to overcome the challenges and thereby contribute to the overall performance.

7 challenges in technical ship management

Freight rates are still low for most cargo, and many shipping companies are facing difficulty generating profit – or at least the profit margin they require. Not much can be done about freight rates as they are a result of the world market and the necessity to move cargo around.

However, shipping companies can ensure efficiency in managing their ships by making sure that the fleet comply with safety regulations and is operated without breakdowns and detentions. This way time schedules can be met and customers stay satisfied.

1. Data communication between ship and shore

Even with constantly improved data communication avail­able on the ships, there are still limited bandwidth. This means that ships cannot stay online, and a lot of data com­munication must be transmit­ted in packages.

The ships are constantly requesting spare parts, inventory, food and other things from the office with the expectation that they will be delivered as requested. Other­wise, it can impact the perfor­mance of the ships. Therefore, it is very important that the information is sent without errors from the ships to the office. If anything goes wrong, the communication principles must be able to deal with er­rors and resend the required information. Not all data com­munication and systems are able to do this, and too often we have observed frustration from ship crew when data is not transferred as expected.

The best practice seen in this area is when the communi­cation lines and principles are reliable and self-repairing. For example, in case a package is not transferred correctly, the systems will identify the prob­lem and resend the package to restore information. These lines must be completely reliable and ensure smooth and secure communication. Due to the high cost of data communica­tion, it is always vital that data is compressed in the most effi­cient way.

2. Ease of use

“Garbage in equals garbage out” is a well-known phrase in systems dealing with user en­tered data. Operation of ships today is often dependent on data entered by the crew on-board. Decisions are made, and actions are taken from the data that is available in the sys­tems. Therefore, we are depen­dent on the quality of the data. Data is not valuable if it is not correct or of a sufficient quali­ty.

One of the main reasons for wrong or missing data is that many software systems today are still made to be operated by experienced IT users un­derstanding the complexity of functions and data. Although the crew onboard is well-ed­ucated, their main job is not to operate computers, but we are still dependent on their usage of systems. Training of the crew is costly and often a logistic challenge as the crew reaches shore in many differ­ent locations. It is, therefore, important that ease of use has a very high priority in software applications. Training on-board the ships is difficult and access to support more challenging.

The cost of training the crew is often seen as a barrier for im­plementing new systems and/ or changing existing systems. To lower this barrier, systems need to be easy to use and self-explaining to the highest possible extent. Use of guide­lines from Microsoft or other software systems will ease the use and make the users more familiar.

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3. Control of maintenance job and routines

This is an area where many different policies are observed. Many shipping companies treat each ship as an individual unit and provide only overall guidance in how to maintain and inspect. This practice is easy to implement, and many ship officers prefer to be inde­pendent with little influence and control from the head of­fice. However, there is a lot of limitations to this strategy.

The safety and maintenance level might vary from ship to ship in the fleet and might cause a poor reputation if one ship diverts in the wrong direction. It also makes it harder to ex­change experience across the fleet, and even harder to ad­just behavior based on experi­ence. It is, however, a hard job to synchronise across the fleet, especially in a fleet of varying age and with different equip­ment on-board.

For those who manage to harmonise across the fleet, there are great ben­efits to achieve. It is much eas­ier to have a consistent policy across the fleet that allows ship managers to analyse all data and figure out the necessary adjustments. Finally, it makes adjustments to policies much easier to implement. This is probably one of the harder challenges to overcome, but we have observed more and more shipping companies that make investments to achieve a central control. Of course, the systems used must support distribution of data from the office to the ships and be able to receive feedback.

4. Use of analytics to drive behavior

All shipping companies have policies and goals for their op­erations. What is more difficult is to drive those policies to real­ity and to measure where they are met onboard the ships.

In­spectors and superintendents that visit the ships are often seen as “policemen” who want to control and give directions. What we have seen in some of the more advanced shipping companies is the use of ana­lytics to drive behavior. If the right KPI’s can be defined and measured to provide the right communication, then it is possible to drive a certain behavior more as a competi­tion between colleagues rather than as rules and regulations.

We have seen an example of a shipping company changing the behavior. They went from having most maintenance jobs performed unplanned to a situation where 95% of all maintenance jobs are now performed as planned. This was achieved by setting up KPI’s and measurements that could compare performance between the ships. Again, the systems need to be able to pro­vide analytics in a simple way that does not require a full BI project before new KPI’s and measures can be defined.

5. Overview and priority of task

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6. Integration of processes

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7. Implementation and support

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