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Digitization, Technology, Collaboration

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Digitization, Technology, Collaboration

Volteo Maritime’s Founder and CEO Surendra Lingareddy

Surendra and his team are part of Volteo Maritime where they are building Wayship, a vessel operating system that transforms the way seafarers get their job done on ships. Volteo helps ship owners and managers achieve compliance and collaboration on ships.  Here, Founder and CEO Surendra Lingareddy looks into vessel operating systems and digital workspace for collaborative vessel operations

Early last year, a few months before the pandemic brought the world to a standstill; I had an opportunity to board a vessel that was being deep cleaned in Singapore. As she had a few days before leaving for her next voyage, this allowed me to discuss with engineers and officers on digitization.

Our conversations veered around the friction they faced daily and what could be improved with technology. The young officers were excited about the prospects of newer ways of doing things, but the more experienced were skeptical. Offering a skeptic view, they reminded that technology’s primary goal should not just be about what the shore wanted; it should also be about balancing collaboration and autonomy, democratic yet opinionated. In other words, technology should be human.

As humans, our biases are a result of who we are and what we do. Hierarchy and bureaucracy stem from these biases that subconsciously put our needs over others. Our interactions with the crew highlighted the need to drive transformation that was inclusive, design software that allowed sharing of feedback, ideas, and ground-up innovation.

While these suggestions sound cliché, the relevance is anything but that. COVID-19 has accelerated the digital transformation. Ship owners and managers are expected to take advantage of big data, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and virtual reality. So how do we ensure that transformation does not just become a pursuit of technology excellence but remains focussed on the people we intend to benefit? We believe one way to achieve this inclusiveness and ground-up innovation is to listen and open unhindered communication channels with seafarers.

It is beyond doubt that new-age technologies can transform the way work gets done on ships. While the promise of technology-driven transformation is evident, the areas to focus on are less noticeable. Digital transformation is a long journey, and we believe it is best to follow the time-tested way of crawl-walk-run. Initiate a dialogue with your front-line seafarers to understand what they wish to transform and map the problem statement with a technology that aids in that transformation. Here are some areas to help you get started.

ISM code is mandatory on most commercial ships to ensure operational safety. While the intent is noble, most firms govern adherence by frequent inspections and audit reporting. The cumulative effect of many such procedures contributes significantly to the usual workload and increases fatigue, especially amongst the senior officers. We believe software should offer seafarers anonymous channels to report the efficacy of such processes, inspections, and audits.

Based on the feedback, the software can be designed to increase collaboration between ship and shore. Such efforts allow the software to blend in with the bridge and engine equipment seamlessly. It also allows alerting seafarers on ISM policies that aid in navigation and enhance safety. By understanding the sources of friction, digital workflows can be designed to replace paper processes and tedious bookkeeping. When designed correctly, workflows generate digital data that can enable remote inspections. Relevant regulatory authorities can access data in real time, reducing site inspections to only those that require their presence.

Improper filing of MARPOL record books often results in massive fines (1). These are fines that are avoidable if the shore staff gains real-time visibility of events that transpire on ships. Most seafarers maintain records diligently, yet inadvertent errors creep in. These are often mistakes in calculations, formatting, or misunderstanding. Software should act as a guardian preventing such mistakes. It should also observe patterns of failure for critical equipment i.e. oily water separator or monitor the sludge and bilge produced to compare it with industry standards. These simple innovations can enable the shore staff to intervene at appropriate times to prevent untoward detention or fine.

STCW Crew Work/Rest hours stipulate a certain number of rest hours for seafarers to recover from their daily churn. Most seafarers, when offered anonymity, highlight this to be lip-service. According to them, most seafarers constantly under-report their hours to appear compliant. They recommend capturing the relationship between port calls, the condition of the vessel, and skill to determine the true picture. If certain vessels require additional hours due to their frequent port calls, they feel knowing such cases is as important as adherence to STCW conventions. Software should be designed to capture both the quantitative and qualitative nature of these hours.

In July, Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) issued a 36- month ban to a vessel operating with serious deficiencies that threatened both the crew and our oceans (2). Empowering seafarers with technologies to contribute/report in anonymity will only uplift the entire industry. Although it is exciting to witness the industry embark on the pursuit of connected ships, often such initiatives are top-down. Digitizing vessel operations, on the other hand, requires a ground-up approach. When done right, we can truly celebrate the joy of digital transforming the lives of our other assets, seafarers.

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