By Ryan Skinner (email)
There's a multitude of outfits offering information to help shipbrokers gain a competitive advantage on intelligence of ship movements. Lloyd's List Intelligence thrones the crowd; there's port information providers, ship-tracking outfits and systems designed to optimize fixtures, like AXSMarine.
If you need to pick one, know that there are some pretty fundamental trade-offs at play: One has to do with the data (how much is there and how good is it?) and the other has to do with the usability (is the data helping you or hurting/confusing you?).
S-BIS founders Roy Devlin and Calvin Holt aimed to hit the balance right on each question. "There are piles of data available these days, but it's with many, many different groups, in different formats, different standards, different prices and different qualities," said Devlin. "You can't see one source as the holy grail."
So they've put together a system that tries to give users (brokers) feedback on the quality of the data. If a ship's location hasn't been updated for a few hours, it may be in exactly the same place. It might also be hundreds of nautical miles away. They notify users of this uncertainty, and try to resolve it for them.
"You know, garbage in, garbage out. There's a million reasons data might be incorrect. AIS data, for example, is entered by the crew. That's just one source of error," said Holt.
The second issue is usability. Holt and Devlin scorn their competitors at AXSMarine on this point. "The guy who commissioned our initial development work hated that system, wouldn't use it. They make the information inaccessible, but they do have weight; they're the industry biggie. We say that they're like IBM, and we're like Apple," said Devlin.
The trick Holt and Devlin aim to achieve with S-BIS is break up the club of brokers that sustain, and are sustained by, AXSMarine. The latter relies on a closed loop of brokerages sharing information entered manually. S-BIS builds on a facebook-like concept, wherein basic information is available to all, and additional information can be shared only with those you want to share it with.
Effectively, they give the long tail of ship brokers who aren't in the AXSMarine club a tool that immediately puts them at the same level, and potentially higher. The fact is this: More and more of the big, slow-moving software houses are going to face lethal competition from nimble start-ups the likes of S-BIS, who can tap and deliver a slim but knowledge-rich information stream.
Perhaps the final differentiation will be this: Will AXSMarine's manual entry of data maintain its value in the face of a facebook-like set-up in S-BIS?