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Helm CONNECT Leads Increasing Software Use On The Inland Waterways

Based in Victoria, British Columbia, Helm Operations launched Helm CONNECT at the end of July 2016 to provide vessel operators with user-friendly software for vessel maintenance and compliance. The company timed the launch two years before the final implementation date for Subchapter M.

“We launched Helm CONNECT in line with the official release of the new [Subchapter M] rules in July 2016, and in just over two years, we’ve grown to more than 3,000 vessels and 150 companies on our platform,” said James Wadsworth, vice president of sales for Helm Operations. “In the U.S. alone, our software is now used by more than 40 percent of the American Waterways Operators fleet, and by seven out of the top 10 companies in the market.”

According to Helm Operations CEO Ron deBruyne, the company’s rapid growth has been sparked by its ability to develop powerful tools that address all aspects of vessel operations yet are easy to use.

Building on that platform, the company has since launched two additional product lines: Helm CONNECT Jobs, for vessel and harbor planning, dispatching, and invoicing; and Helm CONNECT Personnel for crew scheduling, crew-change management and payroll.

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Wadsworth says awareness of the need for management software has skyrocketed. “We’ve seen a huge surge of demand in the past two years,” he told The Waterways Journal.

“While initially much of the push was driven by Subchapter M, we’re increasingly seeing operators of all sizes looking to software to manage and streamline all of their operations, including not just maintenance and compliance, but also personnel, and vessel and barge dispatch management into a single system. That demand from the market is why we’ve recently expanded Helm CONNECT to support crewing and payroll, as well as moving now to support barge dispatch and vessel operations.”

The maritime law firm Jones Walker’s recently released report on maritime cybersecurity has increased awareness of cybersecurity and the risks of ignoring it.

“For most of our large operators,” said Wadsworth, “cybersecurity has always been a key concern. For many operators the added security of a modern, cloud-based system was a reason they chose Helm CONNECT. We not only use the latest security approaches and maintain our systems in line with ISO 27001 standards, we embed security in every aspect of the software from role-based security to password controls.

“What we’re really beginning to see today, however, is a greater cybersecurity awareness on the part of small and medium operators,” he said. “This is a welcome addition, since data security should be an important consideration for all companies—whether that data is kept in hard copies or in the cloud.”

The data generated by systems like those installed by Helm CONNECT can help companies get a better grip on their operations.

“What Helm CONNECT really brings our customers is the ability to easily transition from paper to software, and most important, the ease of extracting and reporting on data in the system and proving compliance to auditors,” said Wadsworth. “The biggest changes we see are in compliance. As companies adopt our software, we’re seeing on-time completions of maintenance and compliance going up by 20–30 percent or more at some companies. On the audit side, our users and TPOs tell us that they’re reducing audit times by 50 percent or more just by using our system. These results have a major impact that goes directly to the bottom line.”

Listening to maritime customers is key, said Wadsworth. “Based on user feedback, we’re now starting to bring in new technology like machine learning-based predictive maintenance, and AI-optimized vessel dispatch, which we think will transform the way many of users approach their business.”