Use of IT solutions in the maritime industry
Having worked at sea during the phase when windows didn’t exist, I have to see the paradigm shift in technology and the dependence on it. Technology usage on ships has its pros and cons and it was meant to reduce the paperwork and make the process efficient. Let’s discuss whether a positive change has been brought about by technology?
Has the technology reduced the workload?
Well besides technology and modern software used on ships, one thing which has definitely increased are the rules and regulations. This has in turn brought about the excess workload on ship’s crews. Master and officers spend most of the time on computers which are used for navigation (ECDIS), communication, crew wages, rest hours, cargo operation, planned maintenance etc.
Let me explain a typical scenario of software usage on ships!
Almost every piece of electronic equipment installed on ships has a different maker whose software will be loaded on a particular computer. A user has to understand its location, usage etc in a short span of time (considering short contracts). For every function being performed on-board, there is a different set of software besides hardware. Understanding the operation of the installed software is a tricky affair for crews. A Master and officer will spend a few hours per day on feeding data on this software. Surely, they have reduced the needs to maintain hard copies and files. But an external inspector may want to see the hard copy, and there begins the extra work for ship staff. Few smart companies have done away with multiple software and brought about one system which takes cares of most functions (vessel management software). Reliability of data inputs and training of users is an ongoing affair though!
Virus and malware
During recent travels have rarely come across a well-kept PC on-board. Either it will be infected with virus, malware or the virus definitions would be outdated. Plug in a pen drive and it will be infected. At times, this could be due to inefficient IT support to vessels, fewer visits or simply giving access to the crew to insert the pen drives and hard disks. So where does it lead to when using software installed on network-based computers. Either they will run slow or crash when one needs them the most. Surely, a smart operator will foresee these issues and fix them with the process based approach but requires continuous focus.
It’s a lengthy topic to discuss here, in short, can summarise that ship owners and managers need to stay focussed when deciding on the IT requirements for vessels they own or operate. Being short-sighted and focussing on budgets will bring about only short-term results. Taking a long-term view will help them in the long run when efficient systems will reduce the workload of crews and office staff. Purchase of IT products and services should be part of IT strategy and focus should be to give one end-to-end solution to the vessel which runs smoothly and efficiently, so that ship staff can remain focused on the critical tasks at hand on ships. Let’s run ships safely and let the crew also enjoy the time on-board.