It was with great excitement that, last October, I was able to launch our MARINELINK-Fleet service to an audience of senior ferry industry executives at the Interferry conference in London.
MARINELINK-Fleet was a significant milestone for us. Our goal was to provide fleet executives with a real-time view of not just the Austal-built ships in their fleet, but also the schedule performance and operating context (such as weather) of all other ships in their fleet as well.
We felt there was a gap in the market between generic tools for monitoring ship AIS data (such as www.marinetraffic.com) and high-cost bespoke fleet management dashboards built for individual operators. Our hypothesis was that there was a need for a lower cost solution which could service the needs of the whole ferry industry.
After two busy days at the conference, I left convinced we were on the right track. At least 15 different ferry companies had expressed interest in a demo of the new software. Many others also talked about how they were interested in digital fleet management but had not yet identified the right solution.
However, we have decided to discontinue the service at the end of 2020 due to the low number of subscribers. So what went wrong?
It would be easy to blame the coronavirus crisis of course, and the massive impact that this has had on the ferry industry. Back in October 2019 it was viable that improving on-time performance and fleet situational awareness would be a high-priority for ferry operators as part of their digital transformation agendas. Once the crisis took hold however, priorities for ferry operators shifted dramatically. Just keeping a safe service operating was the main priority for many.
However I believe this isn’t the whole answer.
In hindsight we underestimated the importance of creating a highly user-friendly interface, which customers would take delight in using every day. This was vital if customers were to move from their existing solutions. We also underestimated the hidden costs for our customers of introducing a new digital solution. Whilst the entry price we offered was low (99 Euro for a one year subscription) this was not the whole picture. Customers needed to spend time assessing the new tool, and understanding how it would fit in with their existing systems. We needed to do more to help them on this adoption journey.
By the time we had begun to realise these mistakes, it was too late. Improving the user interface in particular was challenging since we would require significant user input at a time of crisis.
Instead, we have decided to focus back on our core strengths and the rest of the MARINELINK product suite. As a shipbuilder and designer we understand the performance of ships in detail. The current MARINELINK range intends to leverage this knowledge for the benefit of our customers. For example, MARINELINK-Smart advises crews on optimum trim, speed and motion control system settings based on sophisticated fuel and comfort performance models developed by our naval architects and data analysts.
We recognise that many customers do still wish to use shipboard data to populate a shore-based dashboard. That is why we are collaborating with maritime dashboard providers like www.nauticai.com and DNV GL’s Veracity team to make data from ship’s fitted with MARINELINK products available on-shore.
Dis-continuing a product is never an easy decision. But having the additional time and resources to focus on the other MARINELINK products is a benefit to our customers we felt was worth having.