For twelve years, Scott Strand worked himself up through the yacht crew ranks, starting as a deckhand while a University of Wisconsin college student in 1989 and ultimately becoming a captain in 2000. But these days, you can find Captain Strand diligently writing programming code to perfect his company’s yacht management software in his Orinda, CA office.
So what caused a well-respected and accomplished captain to leave the day-to-day yachting environment for family life with his wife and 3 year old son in the CA Bay Area? I caught up with Scott recently to find out, and learn more about the evolution of his yacht management software.
Amy Levy: What is your yacht industry background?
Scott Strand: I worked for twelve years on yachts full time, working myself up from deckhand to captain. I was lucky enough to work for some fine captains and engineers and the experience gave me perspective on how yachts should be run. Over the years, I crewed and captained various high profile yachts and completed multiple trans-oceanic crossings, circumnavigations and canal transits.
AL: What did you observe as a crew member that made you want to write a yacht management program?
SS: I didn’t go into this thinking I’d write a computer program to manage multiple tasks on board a yacht. But I did notice a situation occurring on board in the mid-1990s. Those were the days before the Euro, when every petty cash transaction involved changing money in several different currencies.
Often times there would be a loss to the boat when one currency was exchanged to the other, sometimes resulting in a 10-15% petty cash loss for the season. But I realized that a computer program could efficiently track transactions in various currencies, so I wrote a program to manage the vessel’s petty cash which could also record currency exchanges.
At the time I wrote that petty cash management program, I wasn’t even thinking about how a computer program could also help keep track of planned maintenance or regulatory compliance. But when I was promoted to first mate and in charge of watch rotations and supplies, I gradually added modules to help with other aspects of vessel management, like supply ordering and inventory.
Then in 1997/1998 I was involved in a big new build in Holland. The chief engineer wanted a program that could do planned maintenance. I evaluated what was on the market at that time, but there was no adequate yacht-specific software available and non-yacht related commercial software didn’t suit our yacht management needs. So I wrote my own yacht management software and started the company.
AL: How did you design your program’s user interface, including look and feel?
SS: One overriding principle when developing software is that as much as possible, the software should work the way you work. Don’t allow the software dictate how you do your job.
So in trying to make the software easier and easier to use I took my lead from the biggest software developer in the world: Microsoft. I realized that since Microsoft spends such a great deal of time and money on research and development, I could benefit from the user interface in its products by mimicking them. The added benefit is that making our yacht management software look and feel like a Microsoft product makes it easier for customers to learn.
When I began writing our program’s first few modules, I saw that Microsoft Outlook did 70% of the time management tasks crew needed to complete. So I mimicked how Outlook looked but tweaked it for yacht needs. I basically used Microsoft Outlook as a template and added similar interfaces to my product. This reduced crew’s learning curve for our program because most people who use computers are familiar with Microsoft processes.
Microsoft publishes user interface design guidelines for things such as colors and other elements so programmers like me can design the product for people with different needs, such as color blindness. We also followed Microsoft’s model regarding icons. As much as possible, we use Microsoft’s icon styles so users will inherently know the function of a control or protocol due to their previous experience with Microsoft products.
AL: How do you gather and use customer feedback to improve your program?
SS: We give our new yacht management software releases to long-time customers who put it through its paces. I often ask customers who use the program the hardest—meaning that the features they use are really put to the test--what they need and want. Then, I look at how the suggested changes can apply to all customers before modifying the program.
I maintain a good relationship with customers so I’m available for constant feedback. We email and talk often, so I’m aware right away if any problems or issues arise with the program. Sometimes, I even spend time with our customers on board to observe how they use our product and get their feedback for improvements.
We try to turn around customer suggestions quickly, because if the program is not easy for customer to use or doesn’t help them achieve their goals, they won’t use it. One feature that we recently added in anticipation of MLC 2006 regulations is the Hours of Work and Rest module. This is a tricky thing for crew to track without a computer, but we’ve made it simple when using our program and we’ve gotten positive feedback from customers.
AL: In your opinion, what is the future of yacht management software?
SS: An on board yacht management software program is no longer an option. Today, it’s just a matter of which to choose. In my opinion, for the first time in history, computer hardware and software are at a comparable state, so programs can fully exploit the capabilities of both hardware and software.
I think there will be a yacht management software shift to better incorporate how people work—what I call “workflow.” There will be apps to access the parts of the program you need at a particular time using mobile devices, gradually replacing the paper and clipboard approach. Touch and motion features will also be increasingly integrated into the software.
One of the main barriers to more rapid development of these software changes is that we are dealing with a low volume product. This has traditionally been a barrier to deploying the capital and resources to fully develop the products as well as we envision them. The good news is these costs are decreasing. So we are steadily moving forward in making the types of software upgrades in the future that we know customers can really benefit the most from.
AL: What does yacht crew like most and least about yacht management software?
SS: A good program makes a tedious task easy. Hours of work and rest, work lists, scheduling inventories, recurrence scheduling and purchase orders, can all be done more efficiently with computer software. But a poorly written or cumbersome program can make crew frustrated. So can keeping track of these things using a non-integrated program or a bunch of separate spreadsheets or databases.
On a past occasion, we got feedback that a module of our program looked too complicated or that the screen was too cluttered. We took those comments to heart and revised things so the program is easier and more pleasant to use. The software is always evolving based on user feedback. We’ll never be finished—we’re constantly identifying ways to improve the users’ experience. That’s good for the customer and ultimately good for our business.
Great Circle Systems was founded by Scott Strand and Andy Levy in 1999. Scott and Andy are uniquely qualified to serve the luxury yacht industry, combining extensive software development and network system integration experience with many years of hands-on yachting experience. Over the years, Scott and Andy have assembled a team of experienced and skilled yacht engineers and network specialists. Together, the company has built an impressive array of products and services to assist in the construction and operation of vessels 30 meters and larger. These products include Triton Administrator yacht management software and the NAS3000 Internet management appliance. GCS has provided IT solutions for many of the most beautiful yachts in the world, including M/Y Cakewalk V, M/Y Lady Sheridan, M/Y Jemasa, M/Y "A" and M/Y Katara.
Amy Levy has been Marketing Director for Great Circle Systems since 2012. She has been a company shareholder since 2000 and currently writes GCS’s Yacht Technology Blog. Amy lives in Kings Beach, CA and when not blogging, can be found hiking or skiing the trails around Lake Tahoe.
GREAT CIRCLE SYSTEMS
Please visit our Yacht Technology Blog