MaraSoft delivers software for maintenance and fleet management in the maritime sector. In 2013, when a major new prospect demanded additional functionality, NetRom Software was asked to build it. Director Pieter van Urk tells how the cooperation has evolved.
"I'm a man from practice. On my twelfth, I started at the Fishery School. I did the sciences at a higher level in order to move on to the Maritime School and I spent eight years as a mechanical engineer at fishing vessels. Then I started teaching at the Maritime School. From experience, I know what it is to endure a storm. Proper maintenance of engines and systems is crucial, and that includes the maintenance records. More generally, here in Urk we know what it takes to be in business as a shipping company. Besides a clear view on technical maintenance, an owner needs up to date information on personnel, equipment, supplies and compliance with safety requirements and both national and international laws and regulations.
On board, I found out that working on paper with greasy hands wouldn’t be the future of maintenance administration. From 1999, together with developer Gerrit de Wit, I started developing a simple tool, Marad, during evening hours. It worked well, especially in fishery, and we developed it further and further over the years. Only since 2013, our time is entirely spent on MaraSoft. Marad is pronounced practical, user-friendly, easy to adjust and not expensive. Today, it’s in use at more than 1,200 vessels in the merchant marine, fishing, offshore, dredging and passenger transport, and for instance at Royal Dutch Lifeboat Institution, Rijkswaterstaat and Danish pilotage as well.
There’s no such thing as coincidence
Around 2013, we were in talks with Boskalis subsidiary Lamnalco. This shipping company with a fleet of 200 tugs would put Marad into use, but made it a condition that there would be a bunker module to support the inventory management of crude oil, marine diesel and lubricating oil supplies. At that time we were approached by NetRom Software. We do not believe in coincidences. The company was in my perception at a tipping point. The crisis had hit hard on us and here was a chance of strong growth. Now we had to weigh the opportunities and risks of outsourcing - but how?
Speed versus dependence
Among other things, I used my mind. I faced that NetRom Software could deliver what we seriously needed: speed in the development process. On the other hand we would have to transfer both knowledge and source code in order to work together. At a vital point in the operation, we would create a dependency. We really shied away from the outlook. After a period of doubt, we jointly made the decision: this opportunity for growth and development was too good to let it pass. The chemistry in the talks with NetRom Software helped the process from the start.
Nowadays, we are in Craiova on a regular basis to discuss features, processes and the way we work. We are absolutely satisfied with the collaboration, but the beginning was not always easy. The first assignment for NetRom Software was building the bunker module based on Marad 4. That led to all sorts of problems which compelled us to revise the code in-house. In consultation with NetRom Software we decided to rebuild Marad as a fully responsive product, based on .NET and SQL. But this new project, Marad 5, took more time and money than was offered. Through these setbacks we found ourselves in heavy weather. I’m not the kind of guy to walk away from a confrontation. We had our share of tension.
In retrospect, these problems were partly due to the lack of systematics in our development process. We really underestimated the impact of outsourcing on our own operations. When we developed new functionality in the past, we simply used to start coding. On the fly, we quickly corrected whatever seemed sensible, based on my personal knowledge and the insights of the first users. But in software outsourcing, this doesn’t work. You need to prepare the process much more precisely. More particularly: you’ve got to know very well what you want and what you don’t want. So we improved our preparation. For any new module, we now first collect and analyze information about the processes to be supported. Then we make screen dumps of the workflows and we go to Craiova to discuss functional, technical and managerial ins and outs. Finally, we review the draft functional design by NetRom Software. It’s only after our green light that a sprint starts. Then things go fast.
I became aware of the benefits of this cooperation only after comparing our frustrations, which were perfectly legitimate in my view, with the prospect of starting a partnership with another party. At that point in time, I realised that our knowledge was transferred successfully, the team had geared up to a considerable speed and NetRom Software proved to be a solid company with a scale large enough to provide specific expertise in various fields whenever it was required. Once more, common sense ruled. We decided to coninue and expand the cooperation. The further professionalising of our development process doesn’t only result in power and speed. The quality of products and processes has been further increased and the shorter time to market has significantly increased the volume growth in software licenses. Our customers will all have switched to Marad 5 within the next two years. It’s clear that we have reached calmer waters.
In the cooperation we really had to get used to the NetRom approach, in which the project leader Florian and his manager Catalyn act as our contacts. This makes direct communication with our five individual developers difficult, if not impossible. When I am in Craiova and directly ask the developers how they evaluate the cooperation, there is little or no text. However, I intend to continue my efforts. Of course I see the benefits of a project manager who independently selects skills and people: expertise in areas like databases, interfacing or app development is always in place the minute it’s required.
Strategy: systematic innovation
Now that we ‘ve left the starting problems behind us, our vision of the future has become clearer than ever. Our own organization of four people should grow to five people next year. I don’t know if our NetRom Software team wil consist of two or seven people next year. But the collaboration fits perfectly into the strategy in which we systematically expand the innovative lead of Marad over the competition. The confidence is there."