Mobile Applications Case Study
Crowley Ocean Rangers Patrol the Seas to Protect Alaska's Natural Beauty (Cont'd)
The Ocean Rangers are engineers, not IT people. Now they’re able to focus on what they're there to do instead of being concerned about technology issues.”
Wendy Whitten, Senior IT Analyst, Crowley Maritime Corporation
About Crowley Maritime
Crowley Maritime Facts
An efficient way to collect data and file environmental impact reports while at sea
Cloud-based mobile forms solution improves the ease, accuracy and speed of creating and submitting field report
Streamlined work processes, reduction of errors, reduced cost
Marine transportation and logistics
$1.6 billion in annual revenues
Crowley Maritime Corporation is a U.S.-owned and -operated marine, transportation and logistics company operating in domestic and international markets. Its lines of business include liner services in Latin America and the Caribbean, marine contract solutions and deep sea petroleum transportation. Crowley was founded in 1892, when Thomas Crowley – the grandfather of current chairman, president and CEO Thomas B. Crowley, Jr.- purchased an 18-foot boat to transport personnel and supplies to ships anchored on San Francisco Bay. The company is wholly and privately owned by the Crowley family and Crowley’s 5,300 employees.
Crowley was awarded a multi-year contract to develop and implement a program to monitor the environmental and safety compliance of passenger cruise vessels that ferry nearly a million tourists to Alaska every summer. The company created the Ocean Rangers, marine engineers who travel on the ships to make sure they cause no harm to Alaska’s natural resources. The engineers used smartphones to record their findings, but had to transfer the information to notebook computers to compile and submit their reports. Crowley needed a quicker, less labor-intensive way for the Ocean Rangers to capture data and deliver reports to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.
ProntoForms™ from AT&T mobilizes the forms the Ocean Rangers use to record their findings. Now it’ easier and more efficient for them to enter data on their smartphones and tablet computers and file their reports from nearly anywhere their travels take them. The mobile solution improves productivity, eliminates paper and reduces costs, as rangers need less equipment and Crowley no longer needs full-time IT personnel to support the program.
A New Breed of Rangers
Rangers have played an important role in America for centuries, protecting settlers and enforcing the law as pioneers expanded the country’s borders. Today a select group of specialists continues that tradition in what many consider America’s last frontier – the unspoiled Alaskan wilderness.
We like to be on the leading edge and want to make life easy for our people so they can do their jobs well."
Wendy Whitten, Senior IT Analyst, Crowley Maritime Corporation
The Ocean Rangers were created in 2006 by a ballot initiative – citizens of Alaska were worried about the environmental impact of the increasingly popular cruise ship tours of Alaskan coastal waters. More than 1.5 million tourists visit the state every year, the majority by cruise liner, to experience the pristine waterways, imposing mountain peaks and dramatic glaciers. Alaskans enacted strict new laws, the first of their kind in any state, to protect their wildlife, waterways, forests and air from any pollution caused by the massive vessels. The legislation required Alaska's Department of Environmental Conservation to find a way to enforce the new measures.
Alaska chose Crowley Maritime to develop and operate its innovative environmental protection program. Recognized with numerous international awards for environmental stewardship and safety, Crowley recruited, equipped and trained engineers (giving priority to Alaskans) who make sure cruise ships comply with the state’s environmental laws. Instead of a badge and a six gun, these rangers are equipped with degrees in marine safety, engineering or environmental protection and have years of maritime experience to help them fulfill their important mission.
The Crowley Ocean Rangers have become part of daily life on Alaskan cruise ships. Today an Ocean Ranger rides along on each large ship that enters Alaskan waters, monitoring that operations are conducted in compliance with state law. Rangers inspect everything from environmental and marine discharges to the ship’s sanitation, galleys, pools, and health and safety practices.
Wendy Whitten, Crowley senior IT analyst, said the Ocean Rangers program aligns well with Crowley’s history of environmental responsibility and mirrors the firm’s commitment to integrity and teamwork. “Our people truly take pride in their jobs and in our mission and values, including environmental stewardship,” she said.
The Best Available Tools
Outfitting the Ocean Rangers presented an interesting challenge for Whitten and her IT colleagues, who are charged with making sure that all Crowley employees have the right tools for each job. “We like to be on the leading edge and want to make life easy for our people so they can do their jobs well,” she said.
Crowley initially supplied the rangers with laptop computers, cameras and smartphones, but it soon became clear that the equipment was sometimes too bulky to be of much use as the rangers scaled ladders or crawled through engine rooms and other small spaces in the course of their onboard duties. She began searching for a better way to support the rangers’ important mission.
“Five years ago their process wasn’t user-friendly,” Whitten acknowledged, mostly because smartphone form technology wasn’t yet fully developed. “The rangers ended up recording freeform text on handheld devices, which they had to transfer to their PCs, massage the data, complete their reports and upload them to a server,” she said. The server extracted the raw data and populated the forms that Crowley uses to submit reports to Alaska’s Department of Environmental Conservation.
“For just one report it probably took a good two to three hours just to move all the data around. It was time consuming and clumsy,” Whitten said. “The initial application was very difficult to format and use. It wasn’t the best way to do it, but it was the best way available at the time.”
A Productive Solution in Hand
As her team researched better ways to equip the Ocean Rangers, a member of Crowley’s AT&T account team suggested ProntoForms from AT&T, which lets companies easily build forms and use their compatible AT&T mobile devices to record data wirelessly from the field. Crowley determined that the versatility and ease of access of ProntoForms would solve the rangers’ logistical challenges.
Whitten liked ProntoForms because she didn’t have to collect every ranger’s device and load new software. Since it is an application, the rangers can download and install it themselves in seconds. “That made it very easy to deploy, and training was easy because it’s so user-friendly,” she said. “In just an hour we walked them through how to set up the forms and input the data and they began using it on their smartphones and tablet computers.”
Crowley was able to create all the forms the Rangers need, using predefined lists and drop-down menus to make it easy for them to enter information while on the move. “They just bring the form up on their phone or tablet and go right through the checklist as they start their review,” she said. AT&T helped Crowley populate the forms with ship names and thousands of maritime codes. As a result, the rangers don’t have to record information manually and retype it later into a computer. “ProntoForms allowed us to push all the data into the form,” Whitten said. “Just think how easy that is.”
If Rangers have to stop in the middle of a review, they can restart the process later on either their smartphone or tablet. Because it’s a cloud-based solution they don't need to sync the devices or transfer files from one to the other.
Filing Reports on Land or Sea
Instead of carrying a separate camera, rangers now take photos with their smartphone or tablet device. ProntoForms makes it easy to integrate the pictures and other attachments into their reports, even geo-stamping photos for easy location identification.
To make the process even smoother, AT&T enabled the smartphones to be used as personal hotspots to provide a connection for rangers’ Wi-Fi-enabled tablets. “They just click to insert a photo into the app, sign the report and transmit it instantly,” she said. The data is entered only once, so errors are minimized.
Rangers now spend more time conducting the inspections and less time creating their reports, which is important since they often have little time between assignments. “They have to be pretty quick on the fly at submitting their reports, boarding the next vessel and starting new reports,” Whitten said. Thanks to ProntoForms from AT&T, the reports rangers submit to their supervisor are already in the format required by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.
Alaska uses the reports to help cruise lines operate responsibly, pointing out what they’re doing well and showing them areas in which they could improve. Cruise lines that violate the state’s environmental regulations have been fined as a result of the Ocean Rangers’ findings, Whitten said. “That’s specifically what this program was designed for, to make sure that the environmental impact of cruise ships in Alaskan waters is minimized.” As a native Alaskan, Whitten has a strong stake in supporting the rangers’ efforts to protect the state’s natural beauty.
Smoother Sailing for Ocean Rangers
Whitten estimates that the solution saves the Ocean Rangers two to three hours each day by streamlining their reporting processes. “The Ocean Rangers are engineers, not IT people. Now they’re able to focus on what they're there to do instead of being concerned about technology issues,” she said.
A number of the 26 Crowley Ocean Rangers protecting Alaska’s resources have been with the program since its inception. “It’s been great to see how much easier we’ve made their jobs since year one just by giving them the right tools,” Whitten said. “They love being able to use their smartphones to take pictures and enter their observations. It's a much smoother process."
The solution has also enabled Crowley to generate savings by eliminating staff hired seasonally as part of the program. “We used to hire a fulltime IT consultant just to support the Ocean Rangers,” Whitten said. “Now we’re able to do it all in-house.”
Saving the World
Crowley officials are working with AT&T to expand use of ProntoForms to their land-based operations. “We’re thinking of retiring an old, expensive application that truckers use to check deliveries in and out,” she said. “It's a form-based process, so we think ProntoForms will fit perfectly.”
Crowley also counts on AT&T to connect its employees worldwide, many of which use the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) protocol. “We travel everywhere, so we need the GSM availability that AT&T provides,” Whitten said. “AT&T is our predominant wireless carrier of choice.”
Whitten believes other states will soon introduce their own programs to mitigate the environmental impact of cruise ships. “Alaskans were the first to do this, and other locations in the U.S. that have a lot of cruise ship traffic, like Florida, are looking to see how this program works,” she said. “Caribbean countries are watching the program, too, so I think it will keep growing.”
Launching the Ocean Ranger program in Alaska and working with AT&T to give Rangers the technology to carry out their important mission has given Crowley Maritime the expertise necessary to assist these other governments with their own environmental initiatives. “We’re ready,” Whitten said.