Vanoord ship in St Peterburg

Van Oord eliminates manual processes to access real-time data and insight from any location

Leentje Chavatte

Leentje Chavatte

Microsoft, Data & AI and Digital Transformation

Read Time, 6 min.

By taking advantage of cloud-based AI solutions, one of the world’s largest dredging fleets was able to enhance its processes, free up resources, and focus on future innovation and growth.

Imagine the scenario. Multiple ships in locations around the world, all with equipment documentation and certifications requested on a regular basis by internal staff, legislative bodies and throughout a vessel’s journey. Now imagine that these many types of certificates are stored in multiple locations, in print and digital formats on legacy hardware, and in multiple languages.

The certificates must also be renewed every year. Like many businesses without the luxury of being born into a paperless, all-digital world, this was the complex situation Van Oord faced on a day-to-day basis. Time-consuming manual imports with the risk of human error, difficult searches and painful audit processes.

“We have so many certificates around the world from so many suppliers, sometimes sent by email and sometimes by post. We had a lot of different work processes, which made it difficult to find specific documents,” says Donny Gieskens, Van Oord’s Cloud Competence Center Manager. “The scanning or typing up of information was very boring, labour intensive and not the type of work that people wanted to do. We had a lot of people spending their time carrying out these manual activities.”

Incremental improvement

To combat this challenge, Van Oord’s IT department explored new ways to automate the process alongside Microsoft partner Wortell, with the resulting proposal, unsurprisingly, met with a very positive response from the business.

The plan was to introduce a new route for importing certificates automatically, with Azure and Computer Vision AI being harnessed to scan and process the documents, storing them in a single location, accessible via a website to anyone within the business.

Seeing the potential value, the business acted quickly to implement a solution that would remove the mundane manual aspects of the job in favour of a more modern process. Working in two-week sprints with Wortell, using an Azure production environment, the business case was quickly demonstrated and received incremental approval as the implementation progressed, ensuring that budget was available and key stakeholders were on board without impacting day-to-day activities. Working in this way also helped the team to manage costs, evaluate requirements and adapt as needed, with the potential to add new features immediately or at a later stage.

The finalised process operates like a pipeline, with each stage featuring a different Azure function. Starting with an email being received or documents added via bulk import, the solution then uses OCR (Optical Character Recognition) scanning to extract information and store it in Azure. Intelligence can be applied at each of these stages as required, enabling Van Oord to further develop its solution and the value it provides in the future.

Employee of Van Oord looking at a Van Oord sand motor during sunset

Vanoord sand motor, a dredger, during sunset

Immediate impact

With the solution in place and continuing to develop, automation has proved a big win with the business, freeing up resource and significantly reducing response times. With no complex systems to use, just simple upload and search functionality, employees are enjoying making use of the new process. With real-time availability and insight, as well as the ability to search for certificates and other information across a range of criteria, they now have the time and the tools with which to focus on business growth.

People always worry that their work might become automated. As a family business, it was important to us to explain to employees that technology wouldn’t replace their job, but give them time to spend on the more meaningful and innovative aspects of their roles.

And the reduction in manual process has been significant, with around five minutes saved per document. With the search optimisation included, skipping the manual scanning, tagging and upload process, that saving jumps as high as 15 minutes per certificate.

Given that Van Oord handles up to 5,000 certificates on average, with around 50 added per week, the time-saving is making a huge difference. Additionally, the availability of information anywhere, including on mobile devices, provides significant value for both those in the office and on the vessels themselves. Turnaround times have now been dramatically improved, reducing the cost of handling paper documents and providing immediate access to information, without the traditional delays, which could last weeks at a time. This is especially useful in the case of audits of Van Oord vessels; helping the business to accurately display compliance to regulatory bodies, using the system.

“If you have paper certificates, they’re only available in the office,” says Donny. “Now we can access that information via a website that scales to your screen size, making it accessible on any device in any location.”

Going deeper with data

By deploying a modern, agile solution, Van Oord is well placed to take advantage of its cloud-based infrastructure and is currently exploring a number of innovative new features for future implementation. The ability to offer a secure, simplified version of the search functionality to customers is one such idea, enabling third-parties to check vessel compliance for themselves.

The automated translation of certificates in foreign languages is another planned addition to the import process and, of course, as more certificates are received and stored, so the opportunities to harness data increase.

With the desire to flag certificate expiry via the system, Van Oord and Wortell are beginning to investigate potential uses of machine learning. Due to the number of different types of certificates, it is not a simple process to determine an exact expiry at this early stage. However, as the number of certificates grows, so does the potential to analyse them and train machine learning algorithms to identify different data types to produce the desired results. Plans are also underway to add imported metadata stored in Azure to SharePoint, providing deeper and more intelligent search functionality, and the ability to visualise and integrate data with the Microsoft Office 365 environment.

Dredging ship bridge with crew at work

Dredging ship bridge with crew at work

The cloud advantage

With no existing infrastructure in place, Van Oord’s new solution highlights the benefit of cloud-based workflows when developing a new business solution. This automated import and search functionality has been built without the need for new hardware, and its cloud-based infrastructure scales with the demands of the business.

“It really shows the advantages of the cloud,” says Donny. “We are a traditional company with on-premise servers, legacy applications and data. But now we can spin up a website with intelligent logic behind it, without needing any new hardware, and only be charged for what we use.”

Avoiding significant upfront cost, enhancing security, and demonstrating a clear business value, the process has not only improved the working environment for those accessing Van Oord’s new solution, but that of its IT team, too.

“Van Oord is a company with 150 years of experience as an international marine contractor, the company culture is one of entrepreneurship and engaged employees. In our digital transformation we get more IT-savvy every day.” says Donny. “It was a good showcase for us as an IT department to show the business what we can do for them. We get more requests from the business, now that they have seen what the (latest) technology can do.”

Now we can spin up a website with intelligent logic behind it, without needing any new hardware, and only be charged for what we use.

Try Microsoft Azure for free

Get started building your next great idea with Azure

Discover more related articles per industry:

Education

Finance & Insurance

Government

  • Two people inside using Surface Go in office

    How technology is transforming the work of governments

    Governments have the ultimate responsibility to their citizens. People depend on the services they provide like no other institution. Whether in healthcare, education, business, roads, railways, water – it’s essential that government institutions are always at the forefront of social and digital trends. Cloud-powered technologies are playing a critical role in helping government agencies to […]

  • A man sitting at a table using a laptop

    Four common challenges governments face in a time of crisis

    This blog focuses on best practice and solutions for working from home, engaging with citizens, gaining situational awareness and staying secure.

Healthcare

  • Asian female scientist working in a lab with conical flasks

    Navigating the odyssey of biomedical research

    In the healthcare industry, collaboration among multiple stakeholders is essential in driving biomedical research. Universities, Hospitals, Pharma, and Biotech are part of a complex and connected ecosystem. Healthcare institutions face critical obstacles when it comes to aggregating, harmonizing, and exploiting data for their studies. The lack of seamless knowledge sharing is hindering the progress of […]

  • two people working in a lab

    Terumo migrates its SAP environment from ‘on-premise’ to Azure

    Terumo, a major player in the healthcare industry, has been active for nearly 100 years – and operating from Belgium for 50. The global company is a leading provider of medical devices, from hypodermic needles and stents, to life-saving heart and lung machines. Recently, the company’s EMEA headquarters fully migrated its SAP Enterprise Resource Planning […]

Manufacturing

  • A Maersk container

    Maersk and Onomondo: a partnership that’s making all the right IoT connections

    “I suppose you could say we were dating at first,” says Michael Karlsen, CEO and co-founder of Onomondo, as he recalls his company’s first meeting with Danish shipping behemoth A.P. Moller – Maersk in February 2019. He admits that the two companies were an unlikely corporate couple: the small, Copenhagen-based start-up IoT operator Onomondo with less than 20 employees, and the massive, 79,900-strong Maersk with its global fleet of over 700 vessels and 3.5 million containers.   The match was made by the Danish Energy Authority. “They knew we were very interested […]

  • Two Engineers preparing to service a clean room

    ASML: Redefining customer support with mixed reality technology

    “In our industry, the stakes are high. If one of our machines were down for a day, the cost for a chipmaker could run into the millions.” Working under pressure is something that Michiel Haverkorn Van Rijsewijk has grown used to since he started as the Director of Customer Support at ASML in February 2020. Within a month of starting at the world’s largest semiconductor lithography equipment maker, the company’s long-established […]

Retail

  • A woman wearing HoloLens

    Natuzzi: A new way of seeing your home with HoloLens

    In retail, the gift of the sales rep has always been to conjure up a vision for the potential buyer. Transport them to another world, surround them with artefacts – imagined or otherwise – that complete a picture in which the customer can envisage themselves. Because when we buy, we buy into something. The object […]

  • Shopkeeper tending a customer in a clothing store

    Blending the physical and digital retail experience? Add a splash of data!

    There is a simple truth at the heart of the retail sector – if you don’t look after your customers, someone else will. The fight for customers has intensified in recent years and shows no sign of cooling down. The retail success stories of the future are expected to be a smart and seamless blend […]

Discover more related articles per dossier:

Customer Stories

Digital Transformation

  • Male store associate helping female customer in tech shop

    Creating great experiences for employees and the customers they serve

    Retail is experiencing ongoing labor shortages in the aftermath of the pandemic. Many people have retired early, found new jobs, or have simply decided to leave the labor market. As competition for skilled and experienced staff has become fiercer, attracting talent and retaining staff is crucial for survival and success.  While increasing wages and benefits […]

Security & Privacy

Tips