Making the UK Ship Registry watertight for the digital era

Tom Allen
clock • 4 min read
Shipping is worth about £14 billion to the UK economy
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Shipping is worth about £14 billion to the UK economy

Catapult CX built a digital vessel registration and management solution to ensure the UK Ship Registry was shipshape and ready for the future

The UK Ship Registry (UKSR) enables the free-flow of goods by sea, which is critical to the nation and to citizens around the world - particularly in times of crisis. Although known for being customer-centric, the Registry relied heavily on manual processes, was executed by siloed teams, and needed a new digital approach fit for the 21st Century.

The UKSR is already the leading Registry on the Paris MOU Port State Control White List for international safety, security and environmental standards, but its owner, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), wanted to update its vessel registration and management services to enhance the customer experience and compete with other registries around the world that were embracing digital. Looking for a partner with experience at moving organisations from waterfall operations to agile and DevOps delivery and culture, the MCA turned to London-based digital transformation consultancy Catapult CX.

"We worked hard with our partner, Stance Global, to successfully deliver an innovative, digital, global vessel registration and management system ahead of schedule and within budget, even with the remote working constraints of COVID-19," says principal consultant and co-founder Craig Cook.

"We are also proud to be in great company as finalists in our Best Public Sector IT Project award category [at the Digital Technology Leaders Awards], as there are several excellent projects and impressive company names sharing that honour with us."

Elaborating on the project, Cook explains, "The main project goals were to fully digitise and automate the UK Ship Register; enable fast, secure, user-friendly customer acquisition and on-boarding; lower overheads; and reduce the administrative pressure on the Registrars.

"Using infrastructure-as-code we created a cloud native, scalable microservices platform with Site Reliability Engineering to ensure antifragility and observability to enable data-driven decision making. Docker allows hosting from anywhere, while Terraform allows the UKSR to switch cloud providers at will."

The results have been well-received, and Catapult is justifiably proud. Implementing agile and DevOps delivery has taken feature release time from 180 days to every 24 hours, while the UKSR can use the new Microservices Enablement Platform to deploy updates and new features without outages.

At the same time, digital uptake has more than doubled, from 28 per cent to 60 per cent. The project also reduced registration time - a key step for gaining permission to sail - from 90 to 20 minutes, on average.

Catapult works with clients in multiple sectors, and Cook says there are valuable takeaways from delivering public sector projects that could greatly benefit the private sector:

"[An] interesting difference between building solutions for the private and the public sector is that spend control in government is linked to the ability to pass strict assessments that instil quality at every stage. Whilst this should always be the goal in any project, when working with government organisations, the end user needs: getting the best value; alignment to the GDS [Government Digital Service]; discovering and solving service problems; creating an agile culture; and absolute transparency, are all prerequisites of obtaining the funding.

"This contrasts with the private sector, where the budget tends to be determined by a finance team on the basis of profitability, when the need for the solution arises. The more customer-centric public sector approach provides a stronger foundation for quality services."

Catapult is looking forward to the Digital Technology Leaders Awards, where it is in prestigious company, competing against projects involving the police, healthcare, local authorities and more. 

"Events like the DTLA demonstrate how technology is woven into the very fabric of everything we do as a society," says Cook. "They elevate conversations around modernisation, innovation, ethics and information policies and laws. They extend the forum to people outside the industry so, whilst technology is shaping society, the reverse is also true.

"From our perspective as an IT business it is fascinating to see the great work our peers have been doing, learn new ideas and identify potential partners for future projects. It's an opportunity not only to compete, but to upskill, innovate and collaborate. From a clients' point of view, these awards events provide examples of the application of new technologies in real world contexts that they are then keen to explore to make their own business better. Overall, these events provide an opportunity to celebrate technology and improve the industry by observing excellence and innovation in action and being inspired to build something as good or even better."

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