Vision – Cornel Ciocan, Director – Singapore
Cornel Ciocan, Managing Director of Net Vision, discusses his company’s commitment to creating trends, actions, and standards to promote change in the marine industry thanks to its numerous cloud solutions. Net Vision entered the offshore sector at the request of offshore companies and is now aiming to offer suite solutions that are also best-of-breed.
With a long career history in the shipping industry, what factors motivated you to create Net Vision in 2002?
In one word – frustration. At the time, I was working in crew management, and I was frustrated at not having the necessary tools to properly do my job. Crew management is truly unique, as you can neither employ someone with a pure marine background to manage HR nor an HR specialist without specific knowledge of the marine sector. Furthermore, there are no specialized institutions for training in marine HR, and you can count solutions for marine HR on one hand with most of these offerings not even scratching the surface. I thus started to create my own IT solutions for marine HR, even though I am a lawyer by trade. These tools turned out to be so successful that it developed into a business, Net Vision.
What is the vision and business model of Net Vision?
Net Vision is trying to bring modern standards to the marine industry and prepare it for tomorrow. Shipping in general is a bit behind compared to other industries, especially in terms of HR. I am a big promoter of modernizing and brining new concepts to marine HR. As such, Net Vision both builds the tools and participates in conferences and exhibitions to encourage the creation of movements, trends, and actions in the industry.
Building Net Vision must have been anything but smooth sailing. Can you tell us more about the challenges you have faced?
The experience of founding and managing Net Vision has been anything but smooth sailing indeed! For example, our first client for cloud-based solutions was still sticking Y2K ready stickers on his light switches when our partnership began. As such, bridging the gap between our advanced solutions and the technological understanding of clients was, and remains, a major challenge.
During Net Vision’s first years, when I would tell potential clients about our web-based solutions that could be accessed from anywhere, these clients would simply reply that they did not need a new website. I had to explain that I was not selling a website but rather trying to change the way that the client worked by allowing them to have more interactive, integrated and interdependent business processes that involved all business entities in daily work.
Overall, most of my time is spent on customer education. A sale is auxiliary to the implementation of Net Vision solutions; the big fight is convincing people to modernize the way they run their businesses and to change their mentalities. This mission to educate the industry has become my life’s vocation in many ways.
In 2010 Net Vision carved a name for itself in the market when Thome Group implemented your flagship product crewing software, COMPAS, for their global crewing operations. How important was that deal for your business?
Thome was not our first big client, but it was one of the first clients that fully understood what we were doing and came on board. Even today, Thome is one our strongest allies in promoting modern principles and concepts, always willing to implement our new ideas and concepts in the first instance. Thome Group has truly become our partner.
Recently, Net Vision and Thome have collaborated to create a new e-appraisal tool that is an integrated continuous process. This continuous mechanism includes achievement tools, such as goal settings, goal monitoring, self-appraisal and head of department appraisal, while an entire flow is routed to departments for comment and action. Overall, this tool constitutes probably the best e-appraisal mechanism globally, not just in shipping, and Thome was an essential partner in the fight to bring this tool into existence.
What are some of your proudest projects thus far?
I am particularly proud of the sophisticated solutions we have been able offer to Wilhelmsen Ship Management. Wilhelmsen has a complex organigram with many centers that directly serve clients and also provide services to other centers concurrently. As such, each user wears multiple hats. Net Vision’s solutions have thus far been the only tool that could support and manage this level of complexity, which makes me very proud.
Speaking of complexity, what are the main benefits of your products?
Firstly, being cloud-based means that clients receive all the benefits of the cloud in terms of technology. Net Vision has been promoting this concept since 2000, and now cloud-computing has become fashionable since clients do not have to install any programs on any device, purchase licenses or even be in the office to access data. Basically, clients can do everything they want, anywhere they want on any type of device, and save money!
Secondly, our solutions offer business intelligence and include modern management principles that we try to instill and implement with every single client. These solutions constitute a business transformation as Net Vision’s tools revise and re-engineer processes with every implementation, thus preparing companies for tomorrow. One of the big aims is efficiency since no one should waste time moving papers left and right, which still occurs today in the marine industry.
For example, such inefficiencies are still present marine travel. To remedy this situation, Net Vision has created an integrated travel request module for crew change planning. The system automatically raises a request for each crew change, automatically directs to the travel agent, collects options, sends notifications for approval, collects approval, notifies travel agent, issues ticket and closes the circle by invoicing automatically. Such a tool makes entire travel and documentation departments redundant alongside many additional benefits in terms of accuracy, efficiency, and costs, among others.
In terms of business intelligence and decision-making analysis, COMPAS has about 7,000 reports, which sounds overwhelming but is not. The presentation starts with a macro perspective and allows user to drill down to micro concerns; it thus gives decision makers all the tools needed to make informed decisions. Clients have the tools necessary to move from instinctive calls to informed, supported decision-making based on proven facts and figures, which truly transforms how the business is run, while also facilitating audits and inspections.
Companies cannot afford such inefficiencies today, a fact that became brutally apparent during the 2008 shipping industry crisis. The years of the crisis were in fact Net Vision’s best years, as companies started looking more into expenses to reverse their eroding margins. Net Vision was able to show companies where they were wasting time, resources and money, while also helping them to integrate their already-existing resources.
Net Vision’s motto is “driving efficiencies through innovation.” As such, what solutions currently in development do you find most exciting?
I am excited about everything we do every day! Currently, we have five new products in the testing phase, all being HR focused and most being complimentary to our existing solutions.
To give one example, marine companies need to both track all worker qualifications to fulfill legislative, client-specific, vessel-specific and project-specific requirements and maintain a copy of these qualifications, ideally available one click away. Net Vision’s new solution allows document scanning to be done remotely at the source of crew and synchronizes the entire process, with all documents properly stored and one click away. Our scanner solution for the module also compresses A4 documents to a manageable 20 Kb file. Overall, the solution embeds all necessary documentation in crew management, which means that a crew change message with all required attachments can be sent in a one-click email. Thanks to our solution, managing worker qualifications goes from taking five hours to one second. Of course, I am very excited about such solutions replacing archaic processes.
What motivated you to start expanding into the offshore industry?
We did not look to expand into the offshore industry; it was the industry that came to us. Industry players heard me speak at conferences and came to me asking for Net Vision solutions, explaining that fundamentally the offshore and marine industries have the same needs. We thus began implementing these solutions for the offshore industry, and, in the process, we learned that HR managers in offshore were even more frustrated than in the marine sector.
Offshore crew management is more demanding since offshore crew have to meet many more demands; they generally need in average twenty-five certifications, compared to five for deep sea shipping workers. Furthermore, if a worker is missing one of these qualifications, an offshore company can easily lose business with a client. Due to higher importance, volume and complexity, our tools become a much more natural fit for offshore. Recently, Net Vision has expanded into the drilling sector since crew management on rigs shares the same needs as marine and offshore HR management.
How has the learning process for this shift into offshore proceeded?
I learn every day, and each branch and region of the industry has its own specificities, as does each client. We learn, adapt and adjust based upon interactions with the industry, adopting and embedding good business processes into our solutions when we encounter them. Whereas when we are faced with less favorable business processes, we are able to offer our solutions and help bring change for clients.
Singapore has made a huge effort to bolster its R&D technological capability. The Singapore Maritime Association, MPA, A*STAR and EDB sponsor and support industry. Have you asked for any specific government support?
Singapore is an expensive place, and businesses will not stay here for long if they are not efficient. Being conscious of this fact, the Singaporean government is encouraging a move towards efficiency and modern business practices to maintain its status as a premiere business hub in the long term. As such, Net Vision is receiving government support without having to ask for it. The Singaporean government has a Productivity, Innovation, Creativity (PIC) that includes our cloud offering, thus allowing any company that adopts Net Vision solutions to receives a 60 percent refund. Even though our solutions are economical already, the financial support of the Singaporean government further favors their adoption. In fact, if a company combines SPRING grants and PIC, they can even make money by adopting our solutions.
Looking forward, how do you look to position yourself in the coming years?
Currently, there are two types of solutions on the market. Firstly, there are best-of-breed solutions for a specific area, such as Net Vision for crew management. Secondly, there are superficial suite solutions for many areas that only scratch the surface for most processes. With no best-of-breed suite solution, companies have to piece together several specific best-of-breed solutions to cover their needs.
Net Vision intends to bridge this gap and offer a full business suite solution at the best-of-breed level in the long term. As a part of this process, we are looking to create standards for data exchange and inter-cooperation between systems for the shipping industry. Our efforts to promote data exchange standards have gained traction, and this year an open initiative will likely be formalized and announced. This initiative can be compared to the OpenXML initiative of the travel industry that has basically created a common language after having reached a critical mass with the support of the International Air Travel Agency (IATA). Overall, I want to change the obsolete fundamentals of the industry with this push for standards.
Finally, since Net Vision is currently at the best-of-breed level in terms of crew management, we have naturally moved into related areas.
Over the medium term, Net Vision aims to be a leader in its niche and a driver for change and modern business in all aspects.