BargeOps And the Data Revolution In Fleet Management
The St. Louis-based software company BargeOps has been serving barge company owners and barge fleet managers for more than 20 years now. As more and more companies see the need for data-based solutions to drive efficiencies in managing equipment and analyzing data, BargeOps’ client base on the inland waterways has grown.
Steve Lemmon, BargeOps’ vice president of business development, acknowledges that by now there are a few other companies that offer services similar to what BargeOps offers in the marine sector. But as perhaps the oldest company focusing on this highly specialized sector of the management-software market, BargeOps believes it has piled up a level of experience few competitors can match.
BargeOps can provide many layers of services. Its barge fleet management software provides real time-data about the location and movement of every barge. “Everything that happens when a barge is shifted, moved, cleaned or repaired—these are all billable events,” said Lemmon. “These transactions used to be processed manually on paper forms and handed off from one employee to another to be keyed into older systems. Paper systems being what they are, this naturally resulted in many missed invoices and lost income.”
The immediate benefits of this data include transparency and real-time knowledge. The time savings frees up marine employees to do what they do best. “Barge workers are highly specialized workers whose time is not being used productively when taken up with administrative tasks that can be automated,” said Lemmon.
He added, “Our clients have told us that not only do our systems save data-collecting and processing time, but they have helped them capture data that used to be missed.”
“We had a large client that had lots of barges on the move, many in small fleets at various locations,” said Mark Peterman, CEO of the Cornerstone Solutions Group, the software-services firm of which BargeOps is a division. “When they came to us considering BargeOps, they complained that they didn’t always know where their barges were.”
With the BargeOps’ Portal, clients can log into a web portal to see real-time or near-real-time visual displays layered onto maps and GPS data. Clients can filter whatever types of information they want in or out. BargeOps uses a third-party visualization program called Tableau to create customizable dashboards as part of the BargeOps analyitics module.
Having real-time knowledge of barge locations and movements is very useful for operational efficiency and saving administrative costs. But much more can be done with the data that is generated by BargeOps systems.
“There are business-analytics tools that we can ‘bolt onto’ the BargeOps system software. These can crunch the data to help guide business decisions. Especially in the mid-sized and up companies, we’re seeing more of them hire business data analysts to use the data generated by our system to make business decisions,” said Peterman.
“The data can give precise and accurate answers to questions like, How much time does each barge spend working? Which of my barges are generating the most revenue? How much downtime is each piece of equipment having? How much time is lost in lock delays?”
When asked whether it’s the younger or older barge workers who become most comfortable with the programs, Peterman says both are, for different reasons.
“The younger guys may have grown up more with technology and have greater tech awareness. The older workers may not take to screens as instinctively, but they have the operational knowledge and experience that we at BargeOps make great use of in customizing our offerings.”
While the industry giants like Kirby are well advanced in their integrating of data in their barge and fleeting operations, said Peterman, many smaller operators still have a lot of room to grow in their use of data and software management.
“That’s where we can help,” Lemmon added.