Columbia Shipmanagement has a vision for fully connected vessels with near real-time information exchange, strengthened processes, decision-making and value creation for customers through end-to-end voyage optimisation. Pankaj Sharma, Columbia Control Room manager, Columbia Shipmangement believes that three aspects are critical to achieving this vision – implementing a scalable platform, ensuring the right people are working for you, and facilitating robust processes of business.
High-speed data at competitive prices is facilitating the rapid digitalisation of the shipping industry. The quantity and quality of data available today has dramatically changed the ability for ship and shore to communicate, but the most critical change it has brought, according to Sharma, is the way vessels are operated. In-depth insight into ship performance is possible thanks to advanced digital technologies that measure, report, and analyse a vessel’s operation at any given time. While this kind of feedback is critical to improve the safe and efficient operation of a vessel, Sharma says that having the correct platform, the right people, and the necessary processes are the determining factors when it comes to maximising vessel performance.
The first component to improving vessel performance is to ensure a, scalable, integrable, and smart platform is in place. Data are being generated far more quickly than previously and this requires a constant reassessment of the operational situation. “You have to go through a test of value to know what you’re doing, why, and how you’re doing it to really understand where gains can be made,” Sharma explained to delegates attending VPO Global’s forum in Cyprus. A digital platform that aims to help with decision-making needs to be able to adapt to whatever environment is being operated in and continuously improve many processes of a job.
The platform also has to be smart and drive a proactive nature among workers. “Whatever we are shown, whatever we visualise, it has to make us proactive. It has to create leading indicators, such as alerts, that show us there has been a change. We need to be given information in real-time. Information that helps us know when, where, and how to intervene,” explained Sharma.
A platform also requires smart techniques to manage the increasing amounts of data generated. “While you can generate a lot of data today, you need smart techniques and machine learning to predict trends almost instantly, that would have taken a long time to predict years ago. In Columbia’s new performance control room, which opened in Cyprus in December 2018, self-correcting models and machine learning enable comparison of years of historical data with real-time data to predict vessel performance trends in a matter of minutes, compared with the decades it would have taken to provide several years ago.
In addition to having the right platform in place, ensuring that the right people are doing the right thing is essential. The right people will be the ones that are skilled, but also that have a positive attitude and motivation towards the task at hand and have a desire to contribute to the current mission, whether that be fuel performance, safety, or any other aspect of a vessel’s operation. People that understand why an improvement needs to be made are more likely to be motivated to implement the changes, Sharma explained.
However, this understanding and motivation often stems from having the right support. “Support is essential,” Sharma confirmed. At Columbia’s control room, which is open 24/7, experts are constantly giving advice to the captain and his team. Sharma refers to this as ‘A proper support system’. “Say there is one captain onboard and he is trying to make a decision that he is not fully sure about. What does he do?” Via Columbia’s control room, a captain in such a situation can get access to the opinions of other captains to help with his or her decision making. According to Sharma, this kind of approach and shared knowledge provides support for onboard crew responsible for the vessel’s operation, but it also encourages a culture of ‘why’ and ‘how’ thinking.
Speaking at the forum, Sharma said that he believes it is important for people to constantly assess whether they are moving in the direction they want. They must ask themselves, “are we moving in vain? Are we making anyone’s life easier? Are we helping our technical department get more information more quickly? And are we helping our marine apartment do a quick analysis of what just happened onboard? You have to assess the value of what you are doing and why you are doing it and the need for doing it.”
Optimising your processes is “very important but easily to forget about once you have the system and the people in place.” Robust processes are key for end-to-end optimisation and an understanding around why a platform is being developed and how it is going to deliver value is essential.
Often there is this idea that once you have the information in place, you can figure out where to go from there. You can work out what you will do with the data and how you will use it to improve vessel performance. But this isn’t the right way to work in Sharma’s eyes. All of this should be figured out beforehand and factored into the budget.
Sharma believes that capturing data to obtain insight into engine performance and fuel consumption is only useful if you analyse the data smartly. And simplify it. He explained that often there is too much data and it is too complicated. “Simplifying data means to understand what is going right and what is going wrong. You need a traffic light system where you begin by focussing on the things you want to see, largely related to compliance, and then you look in detail at hull performance, propeller performance, etc. Compliance is a huge cost, so you need to simplify the data and see simply what it means for compliance.”
Once the data is simplified, there is the advantage of actually being able to understand it and then use it to optimise performance. This is the first stepping stone in developing a platform that will aid in performance optimisation. “We need to know the reason why we are developing a platform and how it is going to deliver value,” he explained.
Columbia Shipmangement’s Performance Optimisation Control Room was officially opened by Ms. Natasa Pilides, Cyprus Deputy Minister of Shipping, who referred to “the growth of Columbia and the quality of its operations is a result of the excellent culture, the extremely high calibre and the hard work of its people.” The control room will deliver faster decision-making and greater visibility by using modern technology to optimise vessel safety, security, and fuel consumption.