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Going digital on the seas and on shore

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(From left) Senior manager for the e-learning project Rajan Bhandari; chief financial officer Siju George; general manager of human resources and crew Lancy D'Souza; and general manager for vetting and operations Sumit Rawla have witnessed many changes in their time with Executive Ship Management, whether in the classroom, onboard ships, or in the office. The company plans to move to an Internet-of-Things approach, in which data flows from ship sensors directly into the Phoenix software system, without having to be entered manually.

WHETHER onboard ships or in the office, Executive Ship Management has seen dramatic changes in the last decade as more processes go digital.

Sumit Rawla joined the firm in 2004, having been sailing on oil and chemical vessels since 1991. As a master on a ship managed by the firm, his duties included using printed checklists to manually record tasks.

"Now the master fills up everything while on the ship, with electronic forms," he points out.

In his earliest days on the sea, he also saw requests for information arriving via radio, and sent documents to shore by post. By the time he joined Executive Ship Management in 2004, email was already in use, but communications between ships and the shore still took time.

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When he left sailing to join the shore office in 2010, he became the one asking ships for information. Fortunately, things became more convenient when Executive Ship Management rolled out its own web-based software system, Phoenix, in 2012.

In developing the system, feedback was sought from former seafarers such as himself, he recalls. "We were asked our inputs - what exactly is required."

Now general manager for vetting and operations, he can retrieve information from Phoenix directly, instead of having to request it from ships. As a web-based, cloud-based system, Phoenix can be accessed on the go or from home, he adds: "You don't have to come to the office at odd hours just to get the information to share with someone else."

In some cases, he does not even need to get the data himself. Shipowners are given access to parts of the Phoenix system concerning their own vessels. This provides greater transparency and access to information, while eliminating unnecessary back-and-forth communication.

Chief financial officer Siju George has a similar story to tell about progress. In the early days, accounts were paper-based, he recalls: "It was hard to access information."

Although Executive Ship Management adopted enterprise resource management software in 2000, problems remained. As the company was using separate off-the-shelf software for several functions, the same data often had to be entered multiple times into various systems.

Apart from being inefficient, this could also result in different systems showing different values, making it hard to ensure the accuracy of data. "Now it's just a single entry," he says.

The next step is for Phoenix to be truly real-time, says senior manager Rajan Bhandari. "Twenty-four hours is too long a time," he adds, referring to the current process where seafarers enter data into Phoenix by filling out digital forms each day.

The plan is to move to an Internet-of-Things approach instead, in which data flows from ship sensors directly into the system, without having to be entered manually. As new ships already come equipped with sensors, and there are digital modules onboard showing real-time readings, all that needs to be done is to link this system back to shore.

"We will start with our own ships to demo the system," he adds. By piloting the approach with ships in its offshore unit, Executive Offshore, the company can then try to interest the owners of the ships that it manages.

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