Monday, August 4, 2008

iPhone replaces pencil

As I mentioned in a previous post, iPhones have become standard equipment onboard Safe/Sea towboats. The large screen and fast email technology has some advantages for high volume areas like Safe/Sea's.

Way back in the old times, I would have to get all my case information via a cell phone, or over a radio. In either case, that meant trying to scribble some notes in a noisy wheelhouse while driving the towboat, with all the attendant frustrations of asking for some info to be repeated, which usually went like this:

"What was the number again?"
"You're broken, say again?"
"Call me on the phone!!"
"I've got no signal..."
"Say again?"
"Standby, you were covered by the other radio."

Or, one had to go dead in the water and copy the info, but again with dropped cell phone calls or stepped on radio transmissions putting up obstacles to a quick transfer of information. And, even if I did write it down, sometimes I couldn't read my own notes!

Well, the iPhone bypasses all that communication confusion. Here is the standard procedure now at Safe/Sea:

As soon as Safe/Sea's dispatcher gets the basic case information, their computer sends a brief text message to my phone: DING! You have a case at xx location, please proceed to get underway. If I'm near the boat, I just get aboard and say "I'm underway" on our business radio; otherwise, I can reply to the text message with a simple K. Now the dispatcher knows I got the message, and I'm getting underway.

Within a minute or two, the iPhone gets an email with the following information:

Full boat description.

Operators Name, address and cell phone number. (the cell phone number is highlighted and underlined, so I just touch that number, and my phone calls his phone; no need to dial. This feature is fantastic. Who wants to dial while driving the boat?)

His location, with LAT/LON if useful. (The LAT/LON is also highlighted. If I click on the lat/lon, a Google Earth map comes up showing his reported position on a chart, right on the phone - very handy to verify that his LAT/LON match his stated position.)

Full membership details with coverage limits and expiration date.

What is wrong with the boat, and where he wants to be towed to

That's a bunch of data to collect, and copying it all down on paper would have taken a few minutes of my time, with the boat at idle, and the dispatcher's time to read it to me, and either good radio comms or a reliable cell phone signal. Safe/Sea has whittled that all down to just a reliable cell phone signal.

If the customer is paying for service, the email will include his credit card information as well. How many times have you had to ask for someone to repeat that sixteen digit number?

Many of the towers around the country will have no use for this technology, because their case loads and fleets are too small. A one boat operation captain sure doesn't need to email himself the information he just collected. But for the larger towers, with 4, 5 or 6 towboats all working at one time, the iPhone can be a time saver, and will definately reduce your communications load during peak hours.

Areas with a centralized dispatch, like Southern California, would certainly benefit from this technology.