Interview: Manish Singh Talks on the Future of Videotel and Seagull
Manish Singh, formerly from V.Group, has been appointed CEO of a new group following the purchase of maritime training company Videotel by Oakley Capital, which also owns Seagull Maritime. Having spent the past few weeks at the post, he is ready to talk about the future and the $30 million investment he is going to oversee.
You've been in the post for a few weeks now. Do you like what you see?
I love what I see! I should point out that I was not head-hunted. Having seen the creation of this platform and the commitment by Oakley to invest in maritime learning - I approached the board and sought the opportunity to lead this Group.
I could see that they were uniquely placed to support:
• shipowners, managers and operators to drive safety through knowledge and technology
• seafarers who achieve the highest levels of safety, proficiency and well-being
• maritime Stakeholders to uphold industry best practices and develop the human capital needed to operate global shipping.
As a proponent for seafarers and having been a ship manager myself, I am personally committed to what our businesses stand for. I have been a user and a customer of the Group companies myself, throughout my career, so I am delighted to lead the development of solutions which our customers seek from these businesses.
Tell us a bit about your background?
I am a third generation seafarer, a Master Mariner, and I have sailed on various types of ships over 10 years. I have also have 15 years' experience in shore based ship management, crew management and marine services.
I have worked in private equity backed market leading marine services businesses for over 12 years, working across continents and partnering with a diverse mix of blue-chip maritime operators.
What do you see as your new group's strengths, and how will you direct them in making best use of the $30 million you have to spend?
We have more than one million seafarers / users – giving us the largest reach within the maritime human element. We have around 20,000 installations at sea and ashore. This is incredibly important for a learning business. We learn from the widest network of maritime experts as well as from the millions of individual training interactions across vessel types. We make this cumulative knowledge available at the finger-tips of each of our customers.
We have partnerships with around 1,500 blue-chip customers in our shared commitment to driving safety and performance through knowledge and technology.
Because of economies of scale, the investments we make into our platform and content have the highest impact across the industry.
What do you have planned for the money over the next five years?
Our comprehensive investment program is aimed at content, the learning platform, user experience and added services.
1. Comprehensive over-haul of learning content
2. Transformational revamp of user interface and user experience
3. Creating a global standard for learning and proficiency records management
4. Seafarer mental health and well-being initiatives
5. Investment in customer support
6. Significantly enhancing ‘Competence Management Matrices’ to help us and our customers provide best frameworks for developing proficiencies on a modular basis.
7. Introducing rapid-learning / micro-learning within our established learning titles
8. Major overhaul of our Apps for learning on tablets and smartphones
9. Major overhaul of our web based learning portal and administration tools
10. Embedding Voice recognition technology into teaching of maritime English and ensuring seafarers/users can test their effectiveness in maritime terms and English as a working language
11. Miniaturization of virtual reality technology for maritime learning use.
We will also consider complementary acquisitions where added software and technology enabled solutions help us address some of the emerging requirements of our customer base.
Is the time right for such a large investment?
Absolutely. Convergence of new technology, greater connectivity, changing operating environment all lead to a greater need to invest in technological development.
What role do you see technology such as virtual reality playing in the group's future developments?
We are using virtual reality to enhance the learning experience and increase virtual reality training opportunities so users can train safely before being exposed to hazardous environments (e.g. enclosed spaces, chemical tanks).
We approach virtual from two aspects: to make the learning experience more engaging and to offer a safe environment to simulate an immersive learning which would otherwise involve a higher level of hazard e.g. escape and recovery in fire- fighting situations, enclosed space entry, chemical tanker wall wash tests.
With the advent of smartphone and tablet technology in recent years, we find users of all ages adapt immediately to the technology we are using. We ensure at the design stage that any media we use does not put any particular age group at a disadvantage due as a result of sensory or cognitive responses.
We are making considerable investments in making our learning experience available across various media: on-line, in-app and via onboard terminals. We will also consider adoption of blockchain to streamline learning and certification data.
What trends do you see in subject matter delivery?
Micro-learning / rapid-learning concepts are becoming critical as is reflective learning - when your learning a more conscious process. I also believe that peer-benchmarking is important in simulating a “leaderboard” training environment where game-based scenarios help students discover successful pathways to problem solving. This is tied to the use of highly intuitive algorithms to develop “customized learning experiences” focused on individual success.
What do you see as the key issues seafarers face at the beginning of their careers?
It is important for seafarers to have a strong foundation in personal and situational safety, especially in the early stages of their career when they are gaining experience and awareness. We have a comprehensive range of learning experiences that deliver this relevant knowledge as well as assessing the effective understanding of seafarers, by way of assessments included in our modules.
Structured learning records are part of the training and certification of seafarers at the early stages of their careers when they are studying for their relevant certificates of proficiency / competence under the STCW convention. Our learning management systems allow detailed competence and career management by seafarers as well as their crew management colleagues.
We offer free material for use in developing resilience, mental health and encouraging support and welfare for seafarers. A good example of this is the material we have made available to seafarers, as part of a holistic approach that our customers are taking towards seafarer mental health and well-being. We are considering making further free materials available aimed at foundation level awareness on health and safety matters.
What do you see as the key issues for more experienced seafarers and their training?
Seafarers need to continually adapt to new regulations and be aware of what this means for their duties on board. Additionally, the advent of new technologies and equipment is rapidly changing the shipboard environment. We help deliver learning in relation to new and upcoming regulations.
Seafarers undergo refresher training courses ashore as part of their re-certification process. We complement this by offering courses which can be used on-shore as well as onboard. An example of this is our considerable work to prepare seafarers and their shore based colleagues for the roll-out of the new sulfur content regulations which came into effect at the start of this year.
What are the challenges for crew management companies?
Sourcing competent seafarers in the required numbers and with the relevant experience in type / rank is a great challenge. We help companies by helping them achieve better retention and career progression by integrating our learning solutions with their crew operations.
What advantages does the combination of Seagull and Videotel bring?
We have a combined experience and demonstrated track record of over 60 years (Videotel about 40 years and Seagull about 20 years. We have unparalleled experience in content development as well as maritime competence development and learning. Our unmatched assessment capabilities have been honed through decades of experience with millions of annual learning experiences and assessments.
All of our collective experience and capacity is invested directly into the core challenges our customers are relying on us to solve. Our transformational scale and reach gives us a ubiquity that helps us and our customers establish higher standards for the industry.
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.