Following the recent release of the Sea/contracts new approvals feature, we talk to Product Owner Eileen Soh about engagement with customers and planning the product road map.
Eileen, talk to us about the new approvals feature – how has it been improved?
Approvals have always been possible in Sea/contracts but the process didn’t offer much flexibility and didn’t provide the peace of mind that our users need. We’ve reinvented how it works now to meet those needs.
Can you give us an example?
Typically speaking when producing a Charter Party, it involves multiple people from different perspectives, such as the chartering company, the vessel owner, or the broker. Within this initial collective of people, they will be concerned with the creation, editing, contributing and management of the Charter Party. But there may be others within their respective organisations who are not editors but do play a vital role in needing to approve the document in its final stage.
When speaking to our clients about this, we learned that no two companies work in the same way – each have their own internal processes for approvals and therefore we needed to ensure the solution we implemented had the flexibility to work with all kinds of scenarios.
You mentioned signatures – does Sea/contract utilize electronic signatures?
Yes it does. Electronic signatures have always been a part of Sea/contracts. Again, each organization has its own set of processes. So while one person may have the authority to approve a charter party, the document itself will require several other signatures attached to it. We found that some clients continued to create hard/ physical copies of their charter parties and were having them couriered globally to obtain signatures in line with their internal processes. With our improvements, several electronic signatures can now be added to documents making the approvals process faster and more streamlined. With the limitations that COVID-19 has put on travel and logistics systems, electronic signatures provides a more reliable way of ensuring accurate approvals but without the lag.
And how does the improved approvals process improve the security of the document?
Once you start an Approval in Sea/contract it locks the document meaning that it can’t be edited – it’s a very simply implementation that we’ve added but it helps to uphold the integrity of the document and the importance of the legally binding sign off.
Sounds great – so the new features have been a result of client feedback?
Yes. We have a strong relationship with our clients. They see the value that the module is bringing to their organisation so they are happy to share their thoughts on how it could work better for them. Hearing the feedback first-hand, or analysing the inquiries that our support team receive all contribute towards the development roadmap and how we prioritise new features.
What’s the response from customers been like so far?
New features are always well received. Like any change, there’s a short period of learning and adjustment involved but we’re closely supporting our customers through that. Currently, with many businesses still working remotely, technology such as Sea/contracts has been extremely important in ensuring business continuity. All of the modules on the Sea/ platform are cloud based, so you don’t need to be office based to access it. Streamlining approvals and removing the need for physical documentation and signatures keeps things moving. The features were not implemented as a result of COVID-19, but they’ve certainly been depended heavily whilst we’re going through this difficult time.
It’s great how you use client feedback to improve Sea/contracts. Do you have any other examples of where this has been the case?
Last year, one of our major releases was the way in which Addenda worked. Similar to the Approvals work which has been released, the ability to add Addenda always existed within Sea/contracts but the way in which it had worked wasn’t intuitive or streamlined. The purpose of digitalisation is to streamline, make efficiencies, take the heavy lifting and hard work away. Like Approvals, we found that our customers were using work-arounds to make the system work for them so we knew there was room for improvement.
What else is new in Sea/contracts and what do we have to look forward to?
Updates and improvements are being made all the time. I’m always focused on the experience of the user and what is going to make their use of the module better for them. A small feature that was recently released within this tranche of work is the approvals pop out – again, a very simple implementation which shortlists the documents that are waiting for you to approve or take action. Like many of the modules within the Sea/ platform, this helpful feature cuts through the bulk of the noise and activity that is visible in the dashboard and allows you to focus on the actions that you need to take to keep things moving.