Enterprise social networking for ships – why and how?

Written by Walter Hannemann, Product Manager | 27 January 2020

Enterprise social networking for ships – why and how?

The maritime sector needs communication tools that enable shipping organisations to tap into the enormous breadth of knowledge that sits within their crews at sea. Typically, onboard workers lack the opportunity to talk to peers on other ships and share operations-critical information.

But how, as people can’t just walk across to the colleague’s office and talk to them? They might, in fact, be on the exact opposite side of the globe. One suitable option is adopting enterprise social networking (ESN) tools that provide a practical platform for employees to engage across the organisation regardless of their physical location.

Let’s look at why ESN capabilities will enhance your operations at sea, and how you enable it.

 

What is enterprise social networking?

An enterprise social network is basically an internal, private social network, which companies implement to enable faster, more fluid communication and networking among employees.

How are ESNs different from traditional communication technologies used in today’s organisations? Those who use them can see conversations occurring between others in the organisation who are not their communication partners, and they can distinguish social and work-related connections among them.

 

The challenges of email as an internal communications tool

Email has established itself as the standard for business communication, also in today’s shipping industry. But when email is used for other than exchanging business-critical information (also between ship and shore), it’s easy to suffer from information overflow.

First of all, email is asynchronous. Getting a reply usually takes a while, and you never know who read your message or not. Secondly, email is always from someone to another person or group of persons. This is a key issue with the use of email for team collaboration or knowledge-sharing purposes.

If you’re not part of a particular email conversation, you’re left out of the information value loop. Only the sender and the recipients will ever know what has been discussed, let alone know that the conversation ever took place. But if someone decided that you perhaps should be part of the conversation, it is very difficult to opt out – your inbox will fill up with that stream anyway.

Here’s an all-too-common scenario: A crew member forwards or CC’s an email to a teammate to ask him something or share important info with him. This creates a whole new copy of the same email thread. If his team uses a distribution list or group alias, it’s impossible to know if anyone has replied – unless you reply-all.

Adding to the disorganisation; too many people join the email conversation, and it ends up becoming impossible to follow. There’s either too few or too many people in the CC.

Bottom line, when using email for internal communication, you can never be sure that the people who should know what you are talking about are included in the CC. You’re risking your messages being skimmed, going unread, or simply be deleted.

Seafarers need – and deserve – a better way to communicate among themselves.

 

ESN: The Intranet that really works – even onboard

Enterprise social networking makes team messaging much easier. Using ESN tools, your employees will reap the benefits of knowledge sharing, collaboration and efficiency in a way that will not undermine the email importance; where critical and important information is handled.

 

Unlock untapped resources

Captains, first officers, chief engineers and other senior crew members have a lot of training, a lot of knowledge and a lot of experience. Regrettably, this collective brain of the fleet is probably under-explored, because the current toolset limits the ability to share information with others, onboard other ships.

Say a chief engineer needs to troubleshoot something on the vessel, but he doesn’t know how to fix that particular issue. He has no easy way of reaching out to his peers and asking for help. And he is not going to write an email to someone onshore, because he needs an answer right then and there. Besides, he doesn’t want to risk looking ‘stupid’. So he ends up trying to fix it himself, and that doesn’t always go well.

If that chief engineer instead had a vessel-friendly tool that allows him to talk to colleagues on other ships – in an open forum where whoever needs the information is able to see it at any given time – then he could have received qualified feedback instantly instead of having to guesstimate.

 

Give everyone a voice

Enabling mobile, intuitive, accessible and secure enterprise social networking tools across your fleet offers an unparalleled way to connect the diverse, well-educated and highly experienced workforce onboard. All of a sudden, there is a vast pool of knowledge that everyone can tap into.

This will break down silos and hierarchical teams, enabling faster collaboration among your frontline workers at sea. Who says what to whom can be seen by anyone.

Crucially, in an industry where a large amount of business-critical knowledge doesn’t sit with office-bound employees, connecting everybody across your fleet and fostering top-down and bottom-up transparency helps develop trust – and the ability to make the right decisions on the fly.

Read more: How ICT solutions can be used strategically in shipping

 

ESN on your ships – what does it take?

First of all, you need to be able to be online. Secondly, you have to do it in a controlled manner. This is where a trusted maritime IT services partner will help you, by providing necessary network control and quota management to keep data usage within approved limits.

Thirdly, you need to make sure the right workers are accessing and using the right resources. People who are no longer part of your company must not be allowed to view or write messages. Thus, users need to be created and removed according to their real-time employment status. With thousands of seafarers coming and going all the time, this is a very time-consuming task, so user administration must be fully automated via automatic user management.

An IT partner working with you to enable ESN across your fleet will help you create, manage and remove accounts automatically.

Some of the available ESN platforms have a free version (or are included in other paid products), so cost is probably not an issue.

 

Enterprise social networking brings real business value

Email is still the king as a formal, timely, secure and business-friendly communication platform for ships at sea, but it doesn’t work well for online, open conversations. For this reason, seafarers are increasingly migrating to modern-day messaging services that allow them to interact seamlessly with peers across their fleets. But what if company information and chats are contained in a controlled environment, instead of being on uncontrolled, open WhatsApp or Facebook groups?

Social media is in essence what people use to communicate today, so shipping must take advantage of the trend accordingly.

Enterprise social networking tools are not only fundamental to giving a voice to the people that make up the lifeblood of your operations, but it is also a good way to cultivate an open culture, where vital insight flows freely across your organisation.

Overall, an effective enterprise social network (ESN) brings your organisation into the most modern way of working. It encourages employees to communicate and collaborate, ultimately increasing the efficiency and productivity of your organisation.

ICT as a value driver

Enterprise social networking for ships – why and how?
Written by Walter Hannemann, Product Manager

Walter Hannemann started his career in a computer factory product development laboratory in 1983, while taking his education in Electronics and Information Systems. Since then, his jobs have involved software architecture and development, infrastructure design and overall IT management, in both large enterprises and startups. With a passion for “making things work”, shipping applications and all digital things onboard ships became his interest after joining Maersk in 2008. Managing IT in large companies like Maersk Tankers and Torm has given him insider’s knowledge in the shipping industry and enticed his entrepreneurship to help moving the industry into the digital future. Based in Copenhagen as Product Manager for Dualog, Walter enjoys finding solutions for big (and small) problems while keeping the overview and a forward-looking approach, with deep dives in technical subjects when necessary – or possible.