Going with the flow or swimming against the tide?

Workflow optimisation and process efficiency involves the elimination of multi or non-handling of information and tasks. For StratumFive our primary contribution to workflow is the collection and seamless connection of data to its use case. Our objective is to make sure we are achieving more with a given resource than was previously possible. According to a McKinsey report published in 2019, employees spend 1.8 hours every day searching and gathering information. On average, that’s 9.3 hours per week! Activity does not always represent productivity, but comes at a cost nevertheless.

Long time coming 

It feels we have been working on fixing the issues of maritime informatics and workflows for longer than the terms have even existed. This gives us a chance to look back and also forward, or astern and ahead.  

What we have long seen is that the key to getting the process right is about ensuring that everything and everyone is in place so that information, data and even correspondence can be dealt with, allocated, shared in a timely, safe and efficient way.

It may sound simple, but many industries and enterprises struggle, so it can be hard to translate what happens elsewhere into the unique and challenging shipboard and shipping company environment.  Structural and functional silos can often interfere and even interrupt what should be clearly defined organisational process flows. 

Ships are increasingly being recognised as part of extended end to end processes. These include supply chain optimisation, port call optimisation and emissions optimisation, to name just three. The connection of ships into these processes is a good thing, but the data requirements are extensive and so we need to optimise the flows to ensure busy seafarers are relieved of the burdens of data generation and can focus on delivering the benefits optimisation. 

Why do we optimise? 

The term “workflow” has become a bit of a buzzword in the shipping industry. The growth of maritime informatics, and the uptick in data flowing between company and client, between ship and office has meant that things need to be managed in a very different way than they were before.  

A thought out and clear workflow is important. It can be a challenge to know and understand what that looks and feel like in real life under the pressure of daily operations and embedded legacy practices.  

Workflows can help streamline and automate repeatable shipboard tasks, minimising room for errors and increasing overall efficiency. This, in turn, dramatically improves company-wide performance and results.  

Senior officers or managers ashore can make quicker, smarter decisions and all employees, wherever they may be, are empowered to collaborate in a more productive and agile way. 

Whole company, every ship

By managing repeated tasks, even correspondence, safely and efficiently, the number of documents requiring master or crew involvement can be reduced – resulting in freeing up time to focus on the job of running a ship, or perhaps even resting! 

In ensuring workflows are optimised, we have to take into account the reality of demands onboard and align everything with expectations ashore. Those working onboard have to be supported and feel part of the process. 

To be successful, workflow optimisation requires a “whole company, every ship” approach to minimise data gathering and reporting requiring crew involvement or to ensure that time and effort aren’t wasted in dealing with issues that can be handled elsewhere, or even differently. This is a time to rethink the norms. 

How to start 

The first step, as with so much in life, is to recognise that there is a problem and that improvements can (and should) be made. Once that view is taken, then it is about focusing on how to make things work better. 

Developing an optimised workflow in any business is a challenge, but in shipping, it is made even more complex. Distance we can deal with, but there are many other things to consider too, including a sometimes hostile environment and a rotational work force. 

We need to consider the realities of not just how things are seen in a shipping company office ashore, but at sea. How are the people onboard set up, supported, engaged and seen as part of the big picture?  

It is no small feat, but the rewards are clear and come fast once everything is set up and the work is flowing as it should. The right flows propel the company to where it needs to be performance-wise, and it is so important to sort the right information in the right way, for the right people…and the right results. Five rights, to avoid a wrong, as it were. 

What are the wins? 

There are many improvements which come with work flowing well, here are some key ones to consider: 

  1. More Insight into Business Processes: Mapping out your processes and, team and machine interfaces, in a workflow allows you to develop a clearer, top-level view of what people spend their time doing, how they do it and the results from those efforts. Workflow gives a greater insight into processes, which means they can be continually refined. Getting better every time, in every way.  
  2. Identifying Redundancies: We’re not talking about getting rid of people! This is about the many unnecessary and redundant tasks that take place daily. This is especially annoying and challenging for seafarers, and those at sea often express their frustration about manual data collection and paperwork. So once there is greater insight into the processes and tasks, then it can be possible to determine what activities are truly necessary. Doing things because we have always done them is such an incredible waste of time, make every process justify its existence and have to deliver real-life results.  
  3. Increase Accountability and Reduce Micromanagement: An absolute frustration at sea is when senior officers perceive micromanagement from those ashore. Emails from the office to the ship that begin “We fail to understand…” can cause a lot of problems. So, to head off tension a good workflow means no surprises, for all parties.  
  4. Improved communication: Similar to the tensions of micromanagement, communication is a pivotal part of improving the relationship between ship and shore. Poor communication is a common workplace problem even in offices, so it can be magnified with the added dimensions of distance and time when dealing with ships.  

Miscommunication leads to misunderstandings, confusion, stress and perhaps even accidents at sea. So, the clarity, visibility of processes and accountability that come with good workflows can see communication dramatically improved.

What are your workflow priorities? If you want to know more about StratumFive and how our expertise can help you see the big picture in your company or onboard your ships, connect with us.

Stay connected and safe.

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