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From the oceans to the cloud: ship pilot's software solution

Date

Sylvia Pennington

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An Australian sea-going software developer is taking the pilotage business into the cloud to avoid maritime disasters.

Knowledgeable marine pilots now have the cloud to count on as well.

Knowledgeable marine pilots now have the cloud to count on as well.

From the demise of the unsinkable Titanic a century ago to the grounding of the cargo ship Rena in New Zealand's Bay of Plenty last October, disasters at sea have always hit the headlines.

Preventing environmental catastrophes in the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait, is top priority for Australia's Maritime Safety Authority - so much so that all large vessels entering the area are required to take a local pilot on board to ensure their safe passage.

Brisbane-based Australian Reef Pilots is the region's lead supplier of marine pilots, with 38 licensed contractors with back-of-the-hand knowledge of the far northern waters on its books.

One of them is Warren Wood, a former naval officer, who, in a previous life, managed a team of developers in Data#3's Microsoft applications arm, after selling his own firm f5 to the publicly listed reseller in 2003.

Wood headed north for a sea change in 2006 but says he saw an opportunity too strong to ignore in a sector which specialist software developers had overlooked.

'I couldn't help myself. I noticed a business need and set to work," says Wood who is based in Cairns.

The result was a new company, Ports and Pilots, and a vertical solution for the marine pilotage industry based on the cloud-hosted Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online platform.

Custom designed for Wood's employer and signature client ARP, his DutyPilot database has transformed the way the firm tracks and manages its pilots and the 160 ships a month that use their services.

Until recently, ARP relied on a couple of Excel spreadsheets to administer the complex business of registering email bookings from ships and their agents, matching them with available pilots, collating shipping information and environmental data and ensuring stringent safety regulations, such as pilots' mandatory rest periods between assignments, were complied with.

"It was a clunky way to manage a dispatch and allocation system," ARP chief executive Simon Meyjes says.

"You can't automate any part of it. You're having to type all the information all the time. Mistakes could lead to a service failure or an unqualified or unrested person being allocated to a job. Or a pilot could turn up and it's the wrong ship. Or they've developed a passage plan for Ship A and it's Ship B. There are a range of consequences."

Once entered on the old system, information was also subject to frequent, time-consuming changes.

"For example, ships can change their expected time of arrival four or five times in 24 hours and they need to communicate the changes," Meyjes said.

"We used to run a single snapshot spreadsheet once a day and in between there would be lots of SMS's, phone calls and emails between lots of parties over one simple change."

Since going live in December, DutyPilot has cut the ARP office workload by one full-time staff member, reduced error rates to zero and attracted interest from potential customers from as far away as Rotterdam.

Every one of the world's 12,000 ports runs some form of pilot service; many of the smaller ones along similar manual lines to ARP, Wood says pointing to the system's potential appeal.

"We've certainly found a spot in the industry that's not been looked after well by independent software vendors in the past. It's highly specialised the way the game works – and it screams out for a cloud-based model."

Wood has linked the DutyPilot system to DutyPilotNetwork, a secure website for working marine pilots to share messages and technical knowledge about ships which he describes as "our own Twitter".

Some 150 pilots from 18 countries have already joined the site, with an average of five more signing up each day.

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4 comments so far

  • Having been an active GBR pilot for the last 26 years it has been a pleasure to see this software taking us forward from the "sharp pencil and a whiteboard" situation that was frequently prone to small and annoying errors.

    Commenter
    reefrunner
    Location
    Brisbane
    Date and time
    April 23, 2012, 2:58PM
    • Is this really news worthy? In my experience this sort of solution is in the daily life of an IT consultant. CRMs have been around for years...

      Commenter
      Pat
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      April 23, 2012, 3:08PM
      • The Cloud....what a load of bunkum that is.
        The Cloud is an instrument of the faceless New World Order, where your every single digital byte is stored not by you, for you, but by the NWO for the NWO....simple as that.
        Articles like these simply exist for the embellishement of The Cloud and the killing off of personal computing with the Sheople. Let's be frank...change the name of The Cloud to SkyNet (as in The Terminator movies)....at least then we would be facing facts about the future of IT.

        Commenter
        The Seer
        Date and time
        April 23, 2012, 4:30PM
        • Nice article Sylvia - this is the sort of IT development that, when combined with the right industry, can produce amazing results. It's seems unbelievable that in the 21st century, excel spreadsheets are (were) still being used to manage such core business management! Great to see zero error rates, especially when knowing what the consequences can turn out to be.

          As for Pat and The Seer, wow, you guys need to go for a walk and release some pressure; I mean we're talking about a journalist making a 'poetic' kind of point between the ocean and computing. Sending info via satellite (i.e., the 'cloud') seemed a perfect way to demonstrate the point in hand. Well done I say!

          Commenter
          Marco
          Location
          France
          Date and time
          April 24, 2012, 7:19PM

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