Suppose you have decided that software solutions purpose-built for the digital ship is just what you need to integrate your shipping company and vessels within a digital strategy. In that case, the next step is to choose the right maritime ICT service provider.
To help you make a wise selection, we have put together a checklist of 5 key factors to consider.
1. Do they have a good industry reputation?
Vendor reputation is arguably the single most crucial factor in determining how satisfied you will be with vendors and their services. Remember, a vendor’s reputation is not the same as being “well known”.
No matter how “big-name” the vendor or how flashy their products or services – if shipowners, managers or operators working with them are not satisfied, will your organisation and crew be?
Vendor reputation has everything to do with customer satisfaction. If other shipping companies don’t like the vendor’s solution, you likely won’t either. If other companies using it are enthusiastic about it, you will probably be as well.
2. How experienced and technically proficient are they in your domain?
Maritime connectivity, by its nature, requires specialised expertise and solutions. Thus, it’s vital that you choose to work with a vendor that knows the ins and outs of maritime shipping and is at the cutting edge of technological advances.
The vendor needs to possess deep knowledge of which technology solutions work in your particular domain and IT infrastructure. Are their support team members qualified IT engineers and not just experts in their own particular system?
Do they have qualified customer representatives that you can reach out to whenever needed – and get precise answers from? If you talk to a representative whose eyes glaze over when you ask a specific question about DNS protection, file transfer or email security, chances are the vendor lacks the industry experience to genuinely understand your challenges, needs and requirements.
Maritime-specific software vendors should be able to anticipate common issues that similar shipping companies have dealt with before – and offer solutions quickly. Ask what other companies in maritime shipping they serve, and what kinds of challenges they have solved for them. Ask for recommendations or contact information for similar clients you could speak with. Proven results matter.
A vendor specialising in maritime-optimised ICT solutions has extensive experience implementing their software in shipboard infrastructures just like yours. Thus, they are fluent in what a vessel must do to derive maximum value from its networks and systems.
By simply studying a vendor’s website, you can get a good idea of the types and sizes of companies they work with. The vendor should be able to demonstrate a long track-record of providing successful implementations in your sector and area of operations. They should be willing to provide a comprehensive list of happy customers.
3. Are they invested in your success as a customer?
Your shipping operations depend on always-on connectivity and the ability to communicate and collaborate with shore-based operations 24/7. If communications grind to a halt, you cannot wait until the following day – you must get it fixed then and there.
As a shipowner or operator, you need to rely on getting predictable and reliable support, when you need it. But that is the bare minimum.
The right software vendor has a customer success team that uncovers how you do things today and helps you discover how you can improve and optimise your shipping operations, sometimes even beyond the scope of the service offering. They educate you as a customer to spot and ultimately avoid recurring or repeat problems. They work tirelessly to ensure you get maximum value from the solution you have purchased.
Bottom line: You want a company interested in keeping you happy and running smoothly long past the initial deployment. Look for a vendor that invests in providing the best experience not only in terms of system functionality – but also in every interaction with your onshore team and vessel crews.
One of the most important aspects of selecting an enterprise software solution is being able to trust and communicate with the service provider.
4. Are they financially stable?
Ask to see evidence of the software vendor’s financial stability. You need to be confident that the company is going to be around for the foreseeable future. There are multiple examples of shipping companies choosing an insolvent software provider that ended up going into “Chapter 11”.
If the service provider goes out of business, how do you access your data and move it to another provider?
Left with software that is no longer supported, you’ll quickly end up with outdated solutions and systems that will cause all kinds of problems for your operations’ scalability and profitability.
5. How well do they manage risk and system security?
This is a potential deal-breaker in any software vendor / software customer partnership, particularly in the maritime industry. The new era of digitally integrated ships requires cybersecurity to be dealt with just as seriously as engine or hull security. Your customers expect both the ship and the cargo to be protected and safe throughout the journey.
In the logistics chain of today’s global shipping, protecting your own data, and that of your customers, is vital to the very survival of your company. Many devastating data breaches and cybersecurity incidents in the maritime sector happen because software vendors are not able to keep a shipping company’s systems and networks secure.
Having your system confidentiality compromised and data falling into the wrong hands can do some very real damage to your finances and reputation as well as to your customers.
Look for a vendor that takes the necessary measures to safeguard your data from theft or misuse. This means they need to not just be up to date on maritime cyber threats and cybersecurity best practices but at the forefront of them. An ICT vendor can only build this competence level through decades of tailoring security-oriented solutions for shipping companies like yours.
No matter your shipping company’s size, it’s always a good idea to map out your needs and requirements to find the right ICT system. However, choosing a maritime ICT vendor is about so much more than merely finding a supplier that can provide the system functionality you need today.
Partnering with an enterprise software vendor is an investment for the long term, as you’re trusting the supplier with a vital part of your business process. In 2021, the right maritime ICT vendor is the one that can be a longstanding, trustworthy partner to facilitate and safeguard your future digital strategy.