Ports of Auckland is New Zealand’s busiest port and the third largest container terminal in Australasia, with ship manoeuvres occurring every few hours around the clock.

Tasked with navigating all ships in and out of port, the pilots at Ports of Auckland wanted to digitize their paper-based documentation of ship manoeuvres. The existing Master Pilot Exchange process used an excel spreadsheet to calculate clearances, which pilots would print and bring with them onto the ship. This presented a variety of problems surrounding real-time calculations and archiving of the agreed manoeuvre plan.

Observation

We spent a day with the pilots to observe their existing processes, helping us to better understand the problem space.

Existing document

The existing MPX document lacked a clear visual hierarchy, making it appear cluttered and confusing.

Ports of Auckland’s primary goal for digitization was to streamline the MPX document process while allowing copies of every document to be automatically saved on their servers. We worked closely with Ports of Auckland to integrate with their existing SharePoint platform, and create a tablet solution that went beyond their initial expectations. Digitization also opened the door to valuable new automation features that drastically sped up the exchange process.

Introducing visual hierarchy for ease of use

As with many digitization projects, users would have to overcome a learning curve when transitioning from paper documents to a tablet app solution. During the design phase we had to consider not only the pilots, but also the ship’s captain who might have never even seen a digital exchange document before. The design process started with sketching user flows and page layouts, then gradually progressing to high fidelity pixel-perfect designs. This iterative process allows for user feedback throughout to critique and confirm each phase before moving forward.

Low-fidelity designs

The final designs introduced hierarchy to make reading and interacting with the new MPX document simpler for pilots and captains. Editable fields were placed in sidebars so that they are reachable for pilots while holding the tablet. Important information for the captain was focused in the centre, and clear groups were introduced. At Ports of Auckland, clearances from the bottom of the ship to the harbour floor are the most significant numbers to ensure a manoeuvre can be performed safely. These critical values were styled to draw the most attention, while hiding the exact calculations in an easily accessible menu.

Sidebars

The flexibility of a mobile solution

We partnered with Panasonic to deliver the best tablets for rough seas and unpredictable weather. The rugged FZ-G1 Toughpads can get wet or be dropped without damage, giving pilots peace of mind. Being able to bring the MPX app aboard the ship facilitated the need for real time calculations. Ships often fail to provide clearance data before their arrival, leaving pilots to guess or manually calculate clearances that determine if a ship can safely enter the port. Now, pilots simply enter the data into the MPX app to get instant and accurate clearances.

Rain

The finished document can then be sent to the ship’s captain and automatically archived on Ports of Auckland’s servers. All while on the ship, and all within the MPX app. The built-in ability to email a document to the ship also allows pilots to send their plan days or weeks before the ship arrives. By opting for a mobile solution, Ports of Auckland provided their pilots with the flexibility to calculate and distribute MPX documents as required. Whether it’s on the ship during the manoeuvre, or back in their office far in advance.

Automating time consuming tasks

During our observations we noticed pilots manually entering manoeuvre information into the excel spreadsheet from a web portal. By plugging this data into the app, we created an in-app schedule of upcoming manoeuvres. Pilots are now able to simply tap a schedule item and have all the available manoeuvre information filled out automatically. This modest addition to the app, conceived through our holistic approach to digitization, significantly streamlined the MPX documenting process.

Old solution and initial design

One critical aspect of the MPX process is drawing the approach path for the ship. With a finite number of approach combinations, there were some common paths that we were able to automatically populate in the app. Based on the manoeuvre data, the app offers a default drawing while still giving pilots the option to draw their own. We also enhanced the drawing experience with a variety of pen tools and stamps for commonly drawn icons, improving readability for the ship’s captain.

Old solution and initial design

The digital MPX app was the first of its kind in the world to replace paper documents. It considerably streamlined the piloting process with a focus on usability, flexibility, and automation. By observing the daily challenges of pilots and acquiring incremental feedback at each design phase, we were able to deliver a highly tailored solution. One which put Ports of Auckland on the edge of maritime innovation.