Behind the Scenes: Transformation at Lower Lakes Towing

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November 20, 2020

Lower Lakes Towing is a ubiquitous name in Great Lakes shipping. Together with their sister-company Grand River Navigation, they form the only trans-national fleet operating on the Great Lakes. 

Capt. Gerald Ray, recently appointed President at Lower Lakes, is laser-focused on growing the business. Through his close connection with shipboard life, he knew first hand the impacts industry trends were having on the future of the business. 

“We’ve put this huge paperwork burden on the crews, because we are so worried about getting hit with fines or deficiencies. Although I understand the need for compliance – we need to be careful that it doesn’t take away our focus from our mission: delivering excellent service to our customers. The path we we’re going down just didn’t seem sustainable.” 

This problem has implications beyond efficiency, he believes:

“Our industry faces a major shortage of qualified people, and we’re not doing ourselves any favours by avoiding technology. Today’s generation has grown up in a connected world. If we want to attract people to be part of our business, a lot can be done to make the work environment more compelling for them. Pen-and-paper and spreadsheets won’t cut it anymore.” 

Lower Lakes was on the hunt for digital tools that would allow their team to focus on what matters. 

Unfortunately, options were limited. Maritime-focused technology wanted huge upfront implementation fees – and provided little to support the training of their crews. With a lean team, Lower Lakes couldn’t spare any additional people to make this change happen. The technical limitations of shipboard use disqualified most companies from outside the industry. Things were looking bleak. 

Then, out of the blue, Capt. Ray was connected to Joe Meadows. Joe, a Master Mariner, had seen a gap in the options available and started a company to better address the challenges faced in the Maritime industry. 

 “I come from the oil & gas industry where the paperwork was totally out of control. That frustration was the initial inspiration. Once we dug in and started to analyze best practices – we realized the problems were much deeper. The paperwork we struggle with is not only inefficient and frustrating, but all we’re achieving is ticking the box of ISM compliance, without actually reducing risk. Crews deserve better than that.” 

The company, Opslock, has focused on creating paperless ISM Compliance software, allowing crew members to create everything. 

Beyond better technology, Joe saw another area where the maritime industry solutions fell short: implementation. “The expectation at shipping companies is that any technology project is going to take years and require a significant amount of resources. That simply isn’t true with the technology we have access to today.”  

This belief led Opslock to build a full Customer Experience department that trains new users and provides ongoing support as an integral part of the service. By doing so, they believe they can provide a higher level of support for a fraction of the cost, when compared to traditional support.

“Our partnership with a fleet doesn’t stop when a PO is cut. We’re not just trying to put a tool in your hands. In our view, the job isn’t done until you’re fully paperless and successful. To do that correctly, we knew we had to be more than a software company – we needed to be a training and implementation company, too.” 

This approach was crucial to Lower Lakes’ decision to make the leap. As a lean team, they didn’t have the capacity to devote full time resources to making this transition happen. This took a lot of trust, but the team was encouraged to be working with a company founded by a former mariner whom they knew understood their challenges. 

Luckily, this trust has paid off for Lower Lakes, where they’ve been able to transition their fleet to a digital system in just a few short months – with no investment from management. 

“I have been through several software projects, and I can tell you that Opslock has been second-to-none in terms of implementation and service. Their team has the respect of our Captains and works with them directly to make sure everything is running smoothly. It has been seamless.”

Members of the Lower Lakes team. From left: Kyle Richardson, Gerald Ray, Davita Ramadhar, Glenn Spaan

When asked about future plans, Capt. Ray admits that this is only the first step. Continuing to invest in ways to make the organization more safe, efficient, and – digital or otherwise – will be necessary for continued success. In the meantime however, he believes that they’re on the right track: 

“From where we were just a few months ago to where we are now – we’ve jumped to the moon. I can’t emphasize enough how much reducing this administrative burden has allowed our team to focus more on what matters – our customers”  

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About Lower Lakes Towing

Lower Lakes Towing Ltd. is a twenty-six year old Great Lakes shipping company which operates six self-unloading “River Class” Canadian flag bulk carriers and two Bulker Carriers.  River Class vessels are at the smaller end of Great Lakes vessels with maximum dimensions of approximately 650 feet in length and 72 feet in beam and with carrying capacities of 15,000 to 20,000 tons. Lower Lakes Towing LTD is owned by Rand Logistics which is located in Buffalo, NY. We have 270+ employees that work on the vessels and office staff that work out of Port Dover, ON.

About Opslock

Opslock is a software company focused on predicting and preventing downtime and disasters in the maritime industry and beyond. Inspired by experience, Opslock provides software that simplifies how tasks are planned, tracked and completed safely, reducing paperwork by up to 85%. These tools are integrated with a suite of management tools that bring compliance to one place: from Incident Investigations to Hours of Rest reporting. As employees use these tools, behaviour is analyzed to anticipate downtime and disasters in real time, giving leaders predictive peace of mind. 

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