“In this day and age it's becoming harder to stay ahead of the game when it comes to compliance and keeping legal. It’s really all about keeping ahead of the game and keeping the overheads as small as possible and not just fire fighting all the time, ” thus reveals Simon Benson, Environmental, Safety & Security Manager, NYK Group Europe Ltd, on the challenges that occupy his working day.
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NYK is a global company whose history dates back to the 19th century and is best known for its global logistics business and activities in other multiple industries, predominantly shipping. Simon Benson’s role heavily involves him in environmental issues, security, disaster recovery and health and safety, all areas in which there is a huge compliance component. The size of the company only makes the task of compliance even harder.
Incidents such as the Buncefield fire and the London bombings have made a lot people in charge of assets wonder about their companies’ strategy for dealing with incidents, whether operations could survive such a hit and whether there is a legal requirement for them to do so. Benson believes that such things have certainly sharpened the minds of boards of directors when it comes to gaining justification for implementing business continuity and other IT protection.
A so called “lights out” event could lead to NYK being unable to make payments that will affect the chartering of vessels potentially incurring six figure losses for NYK within a week. In addition, Benson is trying to keep ahead of the strict compliance regulations land-based operations. Thus it has been essential for NYK to have technology that was robust and secure enough to guarantee meeting compliance regulations.
Benson remembers the journey that started just over two and a half years ago when he moved into what was a new position. “I identified very quickly that there was a hell of a lot of paperwork and it was very hard with all of the  sites in Europe [to cover]. It was hard to see what was going on and to manage what was going on because there was no visibility of what was happening unless you went to [one of the sites]. And even then it was difficult because you sometimes didn’t get totally accurate information.
"It became clear to me very quickly that we needed to have some sort of technology solution to assist us in doing this job and as there was nothing there to assist us before, we were starting from a green field and working our way up. That’s how we came to the conclusion that we needed some sort of solution. All we were using before was email, paper files and a file server which didn’t help very much because we didn’t have common file services across the whole of Europe.”
In assessing what types of system to deploy, Benson was adamant that the process would be business-driven rather than based solely round the technology. He made use of NYK’s in-house IT company for whom he used to work, which helped in the process of assessing what solution to deploy, showing how the solution could meet business needs and satisfy what the company wanted. The scope was broadened to look at solutions that met not just current compliance issues, but also to look at solutions that could cope with future issues.
Benson knew that the whole issue of compliance was going to get even more significant and that new situations would come along all the time and he tried as much as he could to future proof what the company would be investing in. After an initial investigation, he came back with a list of about 15 different products that could meet part or some of the requirements that NYK had put together, following a typical IT project model with a business driver. NYK then whittled this to a short list based on a matrix of ratings based on the key requirements.
From there NYK instigated a series of trials and reviews which brought things down to a list of three solutions, one of which was a complete bespoke solution and provided an interesting contrast with the other two off-the-shelf packages. Benson feels that the company did explore all avenues available to them.
He says, “we really went into quite a lot of detail to understand how best [the solutions] could meet the requirements we had [at the time] but also how potentially how they could be used to invest in the future for us. And from that we went down into what was the best all-round and most cost-effective system for the present and the future.
It wasn’t just based on the product [specifications] but also on assessing the company behind it, the support, the help desk, the upgrades, the feedback from users, the forums; everything, and not just what was before our eyes.” This latter statement reveals a thorough attitude to solution selection and explains why NYK rejected the idea of holding a beauty contest for solution providers to show off the best features of their systems.
For NYK, and Benson in particular, getting a compliance system was far more important than to do something like this. After following such rigorous criteria, NYK decided upon the Achiever Plus Integrated Compliance Management Solution from Achiever Business Solutions in June, 2005.
The product is designed to overcome what its authors say are the three weaknesses of manually supported controls management by offering consistency, efficiency and accountability. Basically, the decision came down to NYK communicating to Achiever exactly what it wanted to do while explaining the complex nature of the organisational structure.
They also wanted to see and how Achiever could accommodate that and what flexibility the organisation could get from Achiever’s technology. Also important, given that the system was to be rolled out over so many sites in so many territories, was the fact of how easy the system was to use and how easy training would be.
Says Benson, “The user interface had to be very friendly and [work] without a massive training exercise as didn’t want to do that [on top of the deployment]. [Achiever staff] came in, they listened to what we wanted; they were able to give us a good working example of what we wanted; they understood where we were coming from, what we were doing; they came up with good examples of what-if scenarios. But it was also, and what really solid it to us, the support behind [the product].”
The initial purchase involved 500 licence users across Europe running on the IBM Domino platform which NYK was running already for its Lotus Notes mail and other such applications. NYK put together groups of key users and identified who needed what key modules of the software.
Benson realised that until such people were producing content there was no point in rolling out the software to everybody. Achiever assisted on advising, when needed, in what way to use the system but Benson realised that the only way the company would be totally conversant with it would be from real life use. Various departments within NYK spent much of 2006 populating the Achiever Plus system with data, and Benson believes that it was not unat the end of the year that the company began to use the system in real anger.
However, in terms of results, Benson feels that NYK obtained benefits from a really early stage. The company’s staff, and he tested this personally, were able to easily pull out information from the system no matter where they were located; a huge advantage compared with the paper-based procedures. The added benefit was that that management, such as Benson, were able to look at documents no matter where they were located.
The results were clear, remembers Benson. “Timescales for achieving targets have been reduced and [there is now] transparency of information. It’s benefited a lot of the team as we have connected each of the [sites who] don’t get to see their colleagues in other countries. By having a system in place, they can see and share information so much quicker so that between them they feel much more of a community than they ever did.”
Creating such communities were part of Benson’s rationale for implementing a system such as Achiever Plus and Benson is adamant that the way in which information is shared and the speed in which it can be extracted from the system have been the principal benefits of using the software. There have also been some things that have far exceeded expectation such as the ability to get reports corrective actions and status, and actions plans for each site. These can all be achieved with the click of a button rather than from days of collating data.
“We can be a lot more proactive. I expected to get some reporting quicker but I didn’t expect it to be so quick,” Benson asserts. That said there have been some challenges though. These include trying to educate the older generation of the workforce, used to working in a certain way, into using the new technology. Although Benson wished that the company had tried to roll out the system a bit quicker.
The future seems to be working out as planned also. NYK has entered into an expansion plan with Achiever to expand the network from 500 users to 2500 users across Europe. This is taking the form of a portal that will act as a gateway embedded into existing intranets without disrupting working practices.
The portal will unify all of the disparate systems, standards, polices, applications and resources. Benson believes that this solution is attracting attention from the regions in the US and also Japan who can see the potential that the portal is offering.
Ultimately for NYK, Achiever Plus has been the right product at the right time and in summing up Benson states that it’s just as well that the system was installed when it was. “If we [had implemented the solutions] earlier we wouldn’t have known what we needed to do with it. We probably would have chosen the wrong solution. We had to understand ourselves before we understood what we needed.”