Before getting into the details of this piece, I’d like to take a minute to provide you some background as to why and how this post came about. I’m new to SSI and as part of my training – and to truly tap into the heart of SSI and find out what our team is excited about – I took the time to interview the leaders of our passionate team. After all, there’s only so much you can learn from a company handbook or the corporate website.
While I was speaking with them it occurred to me that a lot of what I was hearing would be of interest to the companies and individuals who make decisions about the technical aspects of shipbuilding solutions. Additionally, in my capacity as the new Public Relations Specialist, I’m responsible for making sure clients are always fully up-to-date on SSI’s goals, objectives, and accomplishments, making this an ideal inaugural post. I hope you enjoy my summary of SSI’s current passions and priorities and I invite you to subscribe to this blog to stay up to date on industry news from SSI’s unique perspective.
The theme that was interwoven throughout each of the discussions I had was a true dedication to problem solving. It goes beyond just doing a job and releasing an update every 3 months. It’s a quality that is intrinsic to both SSI execs and staff and influences how they create a product, and more importantly, why they care about SSI’s place in the shipbuilding world. The answer comes down to two things: leadership’s attitude, and the people here.
Each one of the individuals I interviewed mentioned a problem that they were working on solving, not just because it was their job, but because they appreciate the challenge behind a difficult problem. This is especially true of the leadership team.
“Without exception we like to sit down with our customer and chew on a problem,” said Darren Larkins, SSI’s CEO, “and then be able to say ‘Wow. That’s a really tough one’ and really work at it. Those hard problems are really satisfying to be able to work on.”
But personal qualities that have trickled down into the business don’t stop at problem solving, the technological and industrial focuses of the business come, at least in part, from SSI’s CTO, Denis Morais’, love of all things business, shipbuilding, and tech. Morais, as a self-described technophile, loves the latest gadgets and advances, “but at the end of the day,” said Morais, “how can it be applied to shipbuilding? Just because it’s cool, and it can add value, how can it be incorporated into the business of shipbuilding.” You can see the impact of this mentality directly in the software in the consistent dedication to open architecture, the growth of the ecosystem around engineering (ShipConstructor), and a push for more implementation of forward-looking automation features.
The Draw of Shipbuilding
What does get implemented, is created specifically for shipbuilding. But, being relatively fresh in the shipbuilding world, I was wondering “why shipbuilding in the first place?” What aspects of this industry have so successfully captured the attention of those at SSI.
“The fact that our customers are building big things, being able to walk on a ship, being able to say it was built with our software is so cool.” said Larkins. “Building big things. I never get tired of going to a shipyard that’s building with our software and seeing these massive assemblies.” The first few times [in the early days], since I was doing the renderings, seeing parts that I did a rendering of last year actually built and thinking ‘Yeah, I’ve seen that before. I know exactly what this thing looks like,’ because I’ve seen the virtual model and I did support on that piece when they had trouble. There’s no other word for that, it’s just cool. It’s inspiring.”
But apart from the excitement of the final product, “why shipbuilding?” also comes down to the uniqueness of the industry. Ships are designed, procured, and constructed all at the same time, and that creates unique challenges for the industry. Solutions to those problems have been found in the past, but those same solutions have stuck around, despite the surrounding technology moving on. “You can’t just take [the] current processes.” said Morais, “The current processes were built on the way things worked before.” SSI’s role is to look ahead and allow shipbuilders to implement the technologies that are available now and still focus on shipbuilding. “The technology should be transparent.” said Morais.
From the Crow’s Nest
What gives SSI that ability to look ahead and identify how and where to implement the latest technologies is a dedication to being agile, both in terms of incorporating the agile methodology into the day-to-day operations and positioning the business strategically to come out on the right side of new technologies. Doing so successfully is a collaborative effort between leadership and the rest of the company:
“It’s my job and Denis’s to make sure that the company is flexible enough to respond to changes,” said Larkins, “but it’s everyone’s job to know what ‘it’ is when it happens.”
The idea that it’s everyone’s job to look out for the challenges ahead is interesting. In a sense, democratizing the future of the company and trusting the employees to care enough to look ahead. When speaking with the team, you’re more likely to hear “SSI’s goals” or “SSI’s role”, rather than “my role” or “my goals”.
This employee trust is one benefit that has come out of a cultural shift within SSI over the past five years. The focus has been on removing hierarchy from the organization and creating an environment where everyone is working towards a common, companywide, goal: “When Denis walks over and starts talking about something,” said Larkins, “it’s not the CTO talking to somebody it’s ‘hey, I’m part of the team, let’s see if there’s a different way to do this,’ and they can come to us in the same way.” This kind of openness creates, according to COO Deborah Peet, “a space where people enjoy coming to work, and there’s freedom for creativity and autonomy in your work life.” In effect, removing these levels has freed up more time to solve customers’ problems and develop our products. Individuals are working to solve unified problems, not working to fight individual fires.
In a more technical sense, SSI has implemented the agile methodology across most of its departments because they believe it is the best way to bring value to the customer. Functionally, how that happens is through more accurately targeted priorities:
“Agile methodology is really all about the focus and the overview of how [a project] contributes to the goals of the company.” said Michael Viala, Director of Sales and Marketing, “It’s been used on our development side for years and years, and we’re adopting it now on the marketing side. I consider it to be an invaluable change. It’s my job to keep us focused on what our priorities are … since implementing a structured Agile process we’ve taken our focus to a a much higher level.”
The result is being able to give the customer additional value as close to a feature’s initial development as possible, embrace forward thinking technologies and concepts, and allow SSI to implement new ideas and understand the problems most relevant to its product and customers. Through my interviews, I managed to get a taste of what form that innovation will take.
Within marketing, the goal is to provide a more complete experience for those interested in our products. “[Marketing is] excited about implementing some innovative technology,” said Viala, “specifically personalization and content surfacing to enhance what we deliver to the market, in terms of specific information they might care about.” Part of that involves empowering our customers, “[giving] people the capacity to choose what they want to hear about.”
On the other side, Morais is working to address one of shipbuilding’s most pressing pains and free up data across shipyards:
“The challenge right now in shipbuilding [is] silos of departments.” said Morais, “even within ShipConstructor we have all this information, but the engineering team that touches ShipConstructor is only 10% of the team, and [this information] has to feed the other 90% of people involved in “the business of shipbuilding”. So, the thing that we’ve always had close to our heart is this open architecture: to liberate that data to be able and pass it on to other stakeholders is a priority.”
Apart from being the main point of contact for SSI’s sales channels, integrating business analytics tools, and positioning SSI to the world at large, Larkins also looks ahead to identify the technologies that could potentially change the way the industry operates.
“AI, machine learning, and the cloud are the real game changers that would be disruptive enough to change the industry,” said Larkins, “we have to be ready, be agile and flexible enough that when disruption does come, we’re already prepared to adapt.”
At the end of the day, the fire underneath the boiler – solving the hardest problems shipbuilders can come up with – is why the team is excited for Mondays, excited for the next Sprint, and dedicated to putting so much of themselves into the company, its culture, and its products. Larkins epitomizes that idea when he says, “there’s nothing more satisfying than helping people overcome those things that they thought would be the end of their company or were going to stop them from being successful.”
I can’t wait to share more about how SSI solves problems, works to innovate, and leads in shipbuilding technology in the near future and beyond. To stay up to date and be first to read the latest developments, make sure you subscribe to the lighthouse blog to get the latest updates delivered right to your inbox.