Wallem embraces blogs, wikis

Implementing new business applications, knowledge management systems and blogs are some of the many projects keeping Wallem Group CIO Patrick Slesinger busy.
Written by Isabelle Chan, Contributor
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Patrick Slesinger, CIO, Wallem Group, says technologies like blogs and wikis help facilitate communication

Q. What are Wallem's IT Priorities over the next 12 months?
Slesinger: Wallem Group is completing the implementation of a new ERP (enterprise resource planning) system. The existing Infor System 21 software, which has been a great success since its implementation in 1997, is being replaced with a Microsoft Dynamics AX implementation. The primary driver for this change is to allow greater integration and the use of a wider set of analysis and development tools. The successful implementation of the new platform, and the deeper integration with the operational systems around it, will enable a new generation of products and services to be offered by Wallem. [Established in 1903 and based in Hong Kong, Wallem is one of the world's leading ship management companies.]

As part of the AX implementation, we are replacing the existing extranet-based financial reporting suite used by our clients with an Online Analytical Processing (OLAP) enabled system. This will be further expanded to incorporate OLAP-based business intelligence systems for operational systems.

Group knowledge management systems are being expanded to include vessel-based staff, accessible whilst employees are on board our vessels and ashore. With the current shortage of officers in the industry, we are looking for ways to better leverage the staff we have today whilst also attracting new talent.

"As with any investment in IT, one of the greatest challenges is ensuring effective use of the new tools and fundamental acceptance of the new processes that accompany an implementation."
-- Patrick Slesinger, CIO, Wallem Group

We have also invested in a new workflow automation system called the Blackpearl from K2.net, and this system will be used to drive and enable a number of business process re-engineering and offshoring initiatives.

What are some of the key IT projects that are being trialed or implemented?
The OLAP and business intelligence projects are bringing a new set of tools that will further empower the staff. In addition to this, the new group-wide workflow platform will also allow greater efficiencies. The replacement of the current Wikimedia-based wiki, with one based on Microsoft Sharepoint will allow the implementation of departmental and divisional blogs.

We see these as a key way to share knowledge and keep staff and clients informed of what is going on within the group. We recognize that with all of the information sources available in the group, and the amount of e-mail received by staff, we need a new way to ensure that the right information gets to the right people in a timely fashion. Wallem will be investing in a new RSS-based information distribution system within the year. This will be integrated into all operational systems across the group, with industry news sources and, of course, the group's blogs and new wiki.

We will be trying out the new fleet broadband service from Inmarsat. This is a very exciting development in vessel communications and should enable a new generation of applications--and potentially, processes--to be adopted. This service will also provide more communication facilities to the crew, which will help to make a shipboard career more attractive and, hopefully, tackle the crew shortages issue that the industry is facing.

What will be Wallem's biggest challenge and how do you plan to overcome it?
As with any investment in IT, one of the greatest challenges is ensuring effective use of the new tools and fundamental acceptance of the new processes that accompany an implementation. Where it makes sense to, Wallem is committed to business process re-engineering (BPR) and business process offshoring (BPO). To enable these efforts, the group has undertaken steps to reduce all business processes to the Use Cases documentation standard--this is not to write software for all processes, but to increase the level of granularity in process documentation, find commonality in processes or process fragments, and ultimately to create best practices.

Wallem created an offshore software development and support center in the Philippines (Wallem Innovative Solutions) in 2000. This has now been expanded to include BPO for the Wallem Group and its clients. This shared service center is the core enabler for Wallem's BPO and BPR initiatives. By bringing together the specification, development and operation of IT-enabled BPO and BPR under one roof, and in a cost-effective environment, we have been able to drive efficiencies and realize value that would not otherwise have been possible.

IT heads are increasingly urged to adopt green technology. How much thought have you given to this, and what are your plans, if any?
The maritime industry as a whole is very much concerned with environmental issues. The main drivers of this are regulation, corporate social responsibility and the image of the industry. Wallem has shown its commitment to this by gaining various accreditations, such as ISO 14001 and the Green Award. With this driver from the business units, the group's IT organization and systems in general have to support these accreditations and policies. This support can be in the form of simple steps such as the enablement of PDF output from all systems, to a more complex data and process integration across systems to reduce, or remove, the need for printing.

An example of such an approach in the group would be the e-procurement system for vessels. This system enables data reuse throughout the process, is extranet-enabled and uses document imaging to remove the need for copying of invoices and other documents. This has reduced the number of invoice copies produced from seven to, in most cases, zero.

Wallem donates all obsolete IT equipment to recycling charities, which in turn refurbish the equipment and supply it to schools in China and other countries. As a policy, we do not replace PCs just because they are "last generation". The replacement of PCs and other systems is only carried out on a business-need basis, with its own cost-benefit analysis. The replaced systems are then trickled down within the organization, and the finally displaced-equipment donated.

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