Waterborne transport efficiency is dependent on various factors such as the operating costs of the vessels, the charter selection, port time, route followed, costs of cargo handling, communications reliability and efficiency. The trading-chain involves numerous inter-linked, intricate stages and also a large number of mediators (sellers, buyers, charterers, ship-managers, ship-owners along with their corresponding brokers, services providers, etc). All these factors heavily influence the efficiency and cost in shipping. Current policies in shipping procedures are rather simplistic and static, although the business processes, especially the ones concerning chartering, have a very dynamic nature.
Nowadays, there is a wide selection of software packages to automate some of the activities engaged in by shipping companies. However, existing systems are in fact very much alike: in practice, they almost always provide little more than office automation tools. This does not mean these programmes are trivial. Analysing and modelling the data structures and flows behind the operation of shipping companies requires sophisticated handling, due to the complexity of these operations. Moreover, the existence of these tools is required by international regulations and codes ruling the maritime transportation sector. Although the result in the best cases may be complex, sophisticated and efficient software, the functionalities, from the user's point of view, are still limited to the automation of basic office procedures. The quality of these type of software resides in their automation efficiency. Therefore, there has so far been no innovation in terms of actual business processes.
The MARIDES project focused on the improvement of the decision-making process in the chartering departments of the shipping companies. It is a data management, communications automation and decision optimisation software tool. The system’s goal is to assist people working both on-board and ashore in the shipping industry to deal with the mass of data and to provide an accurate, fast and on-line consultation.
MARIDES aimed to revolutionise the way chartering departments function by improving and innovatively integrating a number of state-of-the-art technologies into one unified tool. The MARIDES tool complements rather than competes with existing software. The MARIDES system is based on the combination of an enhanced communication intranet, web-enabled information accessing technology, an intelligent decision support tool and a powerful knowledge base.
The MARIDES system built components to connect the chartering department of shipping companies and the ships of the fleet of the company, which enhances bi-directional information exchange. It also provided new application-level motivation to create highly integrated business communications networks in the future.
The MARIDES project followed six functional steps.
Step 1: Assessment of data flows
This first step identified and defined the chartering process, by:
- Recognising the value of all the parameters involved, both deterministic and stochastic;
- Identifying the information flow paths aiming to the delivery of the appropriate content to the appropriate chartering acto;
- Improving co-operation of the various parts of the chartering chain.
Step 2: Decision Support System (DSS)
With the data provided by Step 1, the project developped the DSS functionality, consisting of three separate modules:
- Voyage estimation calculations, performed according to standardised formulas used in the shipping industry.
- Market monitoring module, which performs data handling and web-based automatic input.
- The “Investigation and assessment of proposed charter business and main terms” module; this module has a considerable machine intelligence basis, relying primarily on modelling and statistics.
Step 3: Data Management System
The role of the Data Management System (DMS) is intended to organise, filter and store all the data necessary for the MARIDES system to function optimally. The DMS is fully integrated into the overall MARIDES system in order to provide reliable and consistent data to the other MARIDES subsystems.
Step 4: Shipboard application
The Shipboard MARIDES System is the module installed on-board vessel and aims at controlling the fleet and exploiting the information recorded in a systematic and orchestrated manner, using transactional information exchange between the vessels and the shipping company headquarters.
The Shipboard MARIDES Application module consists of the Onboard Data Manipulator (ODM) and Vessel’s Database (Shipboard Database - SDB). The ODM enables the report preparation by onboard personnel and the SDB is the storage module.
Step 5: Pilot Chartering Network Service (CNS)
The service was implemented through both a web enabled work flow system, and as Web Services. CNS automates a set of tasks normally performed by the chartering manager and internal and external collaborators with whom the chartering manager exchanges information. This type of service perfo
The ambition of the MARIDES project was to integrate state-of-the-art technological approaches with business functional models, and to develop innovative, comprehensive artificial intelligence solutions with user-friendly interfaces for chartering processes in the shipping industry.
To achieve this goal, the MARIDES project relied on
- Supporting and enhancing business processes and practices in maritime cargo transportation through the design and development of decision support tools.
- Providing the required communications infrastructure.
- Designing appropriate communications services for reliable and efficient local and remote process operation and administration.
Artificial intelligence was one of the main thrusts of MARIDES. The Project has achieved a change in focus for the artificial intelligence components of the decision support system, in order to make it viable for use in a real – and indeed very difficult – business environment.
Unlike attempts at decision making which have been made in the past, which attempted to compete with human experts’ decision making, MARIDES instead focused on providing support for the maritime experts' powerful intuition-based decision making process. Thus, the system:
- offers a quick and effective voyage estimation process based on estimation procedures known to be effective in the industry,
- helps experts assess the future performance their vessels will be likely to achieve if they make the decision they are currently contemplating by relying on predictive statistical analyses,
- allows them to delegate assessment of large volumes of possible business options to the system in a way which allows easy stepping in of the expert to take over the analysis of any business order which appears to merit close human attention.
The key technical development of MARIDES is the Decision Support aspect of the system.
The DSS is set at the heart of the MARIDES interface and communications architecture, which is based on a networking workflow management system. Users with various roles, such as manager, accountant, secretary with updating tasks, and so on, all access the system from arbitrary locations. They may, depending on arbitrary business processes, require access to each other's information at any time. Finally, the shipboard application seamlessly integrates into the whole, en
The benefits that MARIDES brings to the shipping market, therefore, concern the user friendly integrated environment, the estimation capabilities that consider important current and historical market data, the distinguishing of profitable offers and the use of the internet for constant and reliable monitoring of the chartering market.
In this setting, there are already two areas already identified as potential extensions, notably on a peer-to-peer basis:
- Automated integration between Chartering Network Services and chartering applications/products.
- On-line management sessions with a high degree of confidentiality.
The MARIDES project provided a deep insight into the computerised management of the decision support process in chartering operations for the shipping companies involved.
The end-users have benefit from the enhanced IT infrastructure that has increased interoperability and operational effectiveness. The system provides improved data manipulation and novel decision support functionality to aid the process of evaluating alternative situations.
The importance of these operations is amplified by the fact that the maritime market has a huge turnover (e.g. a ship's running costs amount to a few thousand U.S. dollars per day) and there is a large margin for increasing profitability by effectively assessing the available business options. In parallel, the MARIDES platform can assist in the establishment of closer business relations and partnerships in the maritime industry. The prototype that was developed enhances co-operation and information exchange procedures with affiliated actors and partners, thus maximising the performance of the related business practises for the business entities involved.