In the run up the Baltic-supported Smart Solutions event at Inmarsat headquarters on May 23, we take a closer look at the potential impact of online collaboration tools on the fixture process
Increasing governance requirements makes it important to convert the fixture process into a highly structured, compliant and legally controlled documentation process, all without delaying or confusing the fast-paced freight brokering work.
One solution is online collaboration tools. More and more companies are launching or making revisions to cloud or web-based collaboration tools to help with the fixture process, but the way in which brokers negotiate, develop and finalise fixtures remains for the most part unchanged – perhaps to their own detriment.
Such tools have benefits for brokers, not the least of which providing their clients with a much better service in terms of time savings, improved compliance and better management of their fixture documentation.
At the beginning of this year, the Marcura Group, a Dubai-based group of companies focused on providing business solutions to the maritime industry, announced the launch of a new cloud-based collaboration tool called MarDocs.
“Improving the fixture process is not about simply doing ‘as per last done’ digitally. It’s about focusing on the underlying issues in the process, including providing compliance control over the charter party.”
Touted by the creator as a real game-changer for charterers, owners and brokers alike, MarDocs is said to simply and affordably support the fixture process, while securing a full audit trail, full control over all clauses and any changes to them and the ability to produce a final, high quality charter party at the push of a button.
Essentially, MarDocs gives all parties the ability to manage fixtures in an alternative way.
Speaking to Baltic Briefing, Harry Reardon-Smith, commercial manager at Marcura, says: “Improving the fixture process is not about simply doing ‘as per last done’ digitally. It’s about focusing on the underlying issues in the process, including providing compliance control over the charter party.
“In MarDocs, users work on a set of agreed terms and avoid the pitfalls of ‘as per last done’. Negotiations are completed between the owner/broker and charterer. The owner/broker then logs into MarDocs and completes the Deal Entry Screen and from that then produces the recap and charter party.
“Using the MarDocs System, the broker can send, attach and create addendums to the fixture. From On subs to Fully Fixed, MarDocs logs any and all changes to the agreed terms of the fixture.”
The benefits for brokers are clear, he says. Not only does this process save the broker time because it is “quick, easy and simply to use”, but it also removes the ‘as per last’ practice which has been commonplace in the chartering world, “thus reducing the scope for potential errors and omissions”.
“Instead,” he says, “fixture documents can be instantly and effortlessly amended or agreed, with every change tracked and every version saved. Once the voyage is fixed, the documents are locked and can no longer be changed. All parties have online access to the latest version of the document.”
With an individual notebook, the broker can also save all the ranges, rates and nuances of his or her business. While the addition of an ‘Agreed Terms’ library means that the broker will not have to cut and paste from ‘Last Done’ nor use ‘Last Done’ terms anymore.
Of course, plenty of other e-chartering, web-based platforms have been readily available for brokers to use for some time, including Triple Point’s Softmar technology and Chinsay’s Recap Manager, a secure online platform for freight contracts management that has been helping traders, operators and brokers enhance their collaboration with all parties in the trade since 2000.
With Chinsay, contract information is captured at the source and is securely available to parties in the trade. It manages the contract lifecycle for fixture recaps, charter parties and other fixture-related documentation, from document creation, review and validation to archiving and retrieval.
Brokers can use the platform to register the ‘main terms recap’ of a fixture and then to produce the full charter party in a secure environment.
Carsten Leth, Chinsay’s head of business development, tells Baltic Briefing that the tool has developed over the years: “It’s a great tool both for brokers and their clients to use collaboratively and it’s always been tailored specifically for charter parties and recaps, and with the aim of creating the complicated contracts on time and having them signed and having them in order which has historically been very paper-based.”
He adds that Chinsay helps brokers to provide “timely and accurate” fixture documentation, while the complete audit trail and version control makes it easy to see what has been changed compared with previous versions.
Added to this, he says: “The brokers always have their clients’ previous fixtures at hand and can easily reuse these as the base for new fixtures.”
One of the biggest value proposition parts, however, is that with Chinsay you can always see what has been changed compared to the original contract, he says: “Chinsay spits out this small review recap which is really smart because alternatively you would have to go through 40 pages of documents and try to see what has been changed. There would inevitably be mistakes and changes that you have missed.
“So, instead of having to review 40 pages of text, you might have half a page of changes you would recognise because you agreed to them and you are sure there are no other changes.”
Asked if brokers should at the very least start offering tools like Chinsay as a value-add to their customers, Mr Leth says they should, “as they can provide their clients with a much better service in terms of time-savings, improved compliance and better management of their fixture documentation”.
Chinsay is also equipped with all ASBA and BIMCO charter party forms, and the customisable clause library is always equipped with the latest BIMCO clauses and comments, helping clients know they are compliant.
Certainly, it seems worthwhile for brokers to start using fixture management tools – be it MarDocs, Chinsay or another – to better create shipping documentation, if they aren’t already. However, Tim Polson, shipbroker at Asiaworld Shipping, says that while these tools can save time in standardised, straightforward trades such as capesize ore/coal, a broker needs to establish where they can utilise these versus where they need to maintain human contact.
“For example,” he continues, “I was involved recently in a shipment from a remote port in the Pacific Islands to another remote port in Australia moving an awkward heavy-lift cargo using a geared multi-purpose vessel.
“Initial attempts were made by one of the parties to use an online system to go back and forth with changes, addenda, operational requirements, invoicing requirements, cargo pictures/diagrams and the like … but the changes were so numerous and regular that it ended up being quicker to call each other, make all amendments necessary then send a summary via email.
“This also enabled us to explain complex shipping and/or engineering terms to each other as opposed to sending numerous ‘please clarify XYZ’ emails and/or online messages.”
Mr Polson concludes that he is in “full support” of brokers using online tools to take out repetitive ‘urgent but not important’ tasks, but it is important to gauge what tasks to delegate to the machines, and what tasks it is important to do ‘the old way’ to ensure smooth shipment execution and maximum service delivery to charterers and shipowners alike.
“Just as ship’s holds should carry the optimal balance of tonnage and cubic-metre stowing cargoes to create the most efficient cargo mix, brokers should seek to use online tools and automation in balance with their traditional, experience-based activities.”
An example of this is how Amazon, despite using advanced drone technology to deliver purchases in some regions, has implemented bicycle courier deliveries in New York City. The service is called Amazon Prime Now and mimics the immediacy of in-store shopping by bringing some merchandise to customers in Manhattan within one hour or two. While bikes certainly won’t be the most efficient delivery mode in every city, it makes perfect sense in New York.
Taking advantage of technology while still maintaining an element of human contact presents an opportunity for brokers to offer more efficient and easy-to-use services for their customers, much in the same way Amazon Prime Now has for Amazon.
Smart Solutions 3 is a one day forum showcasing the best in software solutions for shore-based shipping, chartering and trading operations, taking place on May 23, 2017 at Inmarsat, London. For more information or to book a place to attend Smart Solutions 3, visit http://www.navigateevents.com/events/smart-solutions-3/.