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Why ‘good’ data is the key to automation

The shipping industry has made great strides on its journey to digitalisation over the past two years, prompted in part by the Covid-19 pandemic.

A report by Inmarsat[i] last year said that Covid-19 was a “universal disruptor and catalyst for digital transformation” and the adoption of digital technology in the maritime sector will be three years ahead of previous estimates by the end of this year.

Now there are also new challenges to contend with, including the fuel crisis, a volatile trading environment and rising costs, and more than ever digital technology and the automation of processes are solutions that can help companies reduce costs and realise new efficiencies.

The challenge extracting ‘good’ data

But the process of digitalization doesn’t happen overnight. Executives often mistakenly think that moving from a paper-based system into an automated, digital one is a simple process. The challenge they face is how to get ‘good’ data so they can gain meaningful analytics that can be used to transform the business.

‘Good’ data is consistent, high quality and presented in a format that can be extracted easily for reporting and analytics. This is the type of data needed for companies to gain the insights into key areas including risk management, maintenance, purchasing or finance.

Without good data it’s impossible for companies to make informed decisions or future predictions based on past ways of working. While most companies have volumes of data available, most is not consistent or accurate and so the first step is for us generally is to spend time cleaning it up

And while some companies have the right systems in place to capture data, not everyone in the organisation will obey the right processes all the time, which means that the data will be poor quality data, inconsistent or incomplete and can’t be used for reporting.

For example, take a simple request from a vessel to purchase essential items for the crew. A crew member might request the items in a digital order form correctly using a standardized catalogue, but at the last minute someone adds washing power to the list as a free text. Instead of following the same process, they write the words washing powder on the form, skewing the digital process, and making the data unreliable.

The solution comes in the software they choose. It’s vital that companies opt for ship management software that guides and forces them to input accurate and consistent data, software that is rule driven and demands that rules are followed every time, so that data is consistent and accurate.

Proper automation is not possible without this step. The stricter the processes for entering data at the beginning, the better the resulting insights, analytics and calculations will be. The reward of having this ‘good’ data is they can then look to automate processes in a way that will be truly beneficial to the business.

Shipping companies using our cloud-based management software for purchasing for example see the benefits of using a system that guides the accurate input of information. If they want to make any purchase, they can use a standardized digital form that is sent to suppliers, who then use the same form to offer their products.

This data is then used by the system to automatically show the best prices. It helps companies overhaul purchasing by automating the entire process and gaining real time visibility into their budgets and operating expenditure (OPEX).

Reliable data also offers the option for more automation, e.g. linking purchasing and scheduling information to automate the delivery of goods to the next destination of the vessel.

Maintenance work can also be automated using our maintenance software which gives real-time visibility of the entire fleet and enables managers to keep track of maintenance work centrally, precisely and according to requirements and priorities.

This includes a cash flow planning tool which enables managers to make accurate statements about the distribution of jobs as well respective costs and how employees will be utilised for each job. This means they can plan maintenance tasks over the year and make budget predictions based on what work may need to be done in the future.

Another example is with our crew management software. Once a seafarer’s personal data is entered correctly, they can then go into the system to add their hours and expenses. This automates payroll and the money goes straight into their banks.

By automating such processes companies save significant time and money on administration. It also provides reliable data that can easily be compiled into reports or for analytics to help managers make predictions about future expenditure and take actions where needed.

The future is digital

To become digitally mature takes time and cannot be achieved without the cleaning up of data at the start of the process.

But the benefits of doing this and having trusted and consistent data, is that companies can move forward into the future automating many processes and gaining all the efficiencies that come with this.

Accessing quality analytics and insights can enable them to improve business decisions across many areas such as purchasing, budgets, staffing needs and even maintenance jobs. This can reduce costs and increase productivity, as well as save time.

It can also enable the business to make predictions on where the business might be in the future. Knowing what they will need to pay for over the next year or even the next five years can help future proof the business and enable them to ride out a tricky trading environment.

Hanseaticsoft is an established global provider of cloud-based software for the maritime industry.
Source: Alexander Buchmann, Managing Director, Hanseaticsoft, part of Lloyd’s Register’s Maritime Performance Services division

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