Getting to know Dr. Thomas Weber

Q: Your career began in the maritime industry as a deck officer. At that time in your life, did you imagine one day you would be shore based and holding a doctorate?

As a boy, I always wanted to go out to sea and become a Master. Eventually, I decided to stay on shore to do some more studies, but I got my license as a deck officer, a navigator. One of the main things I remember from being a deck officer at sea is that you’re almost always on your own with the crew, with little or no contact with the shore – working as a team, we had to solve problems by ourselves and immediately.

At that time, onshore communication with the vessel was very limited. Today, by contrast, it is very transparent: those on shore can track where the vessel is and send email and data packages – the technology has come a long way.

Q: What did you study during your doctoral degree?

I took a PhD in Optimum Routing, it’s an engineering degree. My thesis, “Optimum Voyage Planning and Execution”, was about the optimization of vessels’ track and speed

Q: You’re passionate about your work – what is it that excites you?

What’s exciting is the challenge to always deliver value to our clients. This means to be innovative in the face of other competitors – to become the best system – but also to provide that value in an accessible and user-friendly way. Users’ experience levels vary: what some users are familiar with, others are not, and it’s up to us to make sure everyone sees and benefits from the value our services deliver.

I also appreciate that I’m working with a good team, an open-minded team. Plus, I think a good sense of humor is important!

Your clients and friends describe you as utterly honest and loyal, why do you think that is?

I’ve been in the industry for more than 20 years. For me, the biggest accomplishment is that clients both on shore and on sea trust me. They call me on the phone and they want to get my opinion and advice, and I feel it’s very important to build up that trust and good faith through developing good relationships with clients over the years.

Q: How do you motivate your development team?

I try to involve people. I want to look at the issue from several different perspectives. I am not looking to be the one who is always right – I look for the best solution, one that everyone is happy with. It’s important that we all discuss things together. I also like the fact that particularly in our team we have a very lean and flexible process, which means we can react quickly.

Q: What kinds of products are you and the development team currently working on?

The mission has been to build the best performance monitoring system, as well as a smart fleet management tool. StormGeo is in a unique position because we are able to combine MetOcean data, track data, and technical data all in one application. This provides clients with a tool to improve their performance, and the market conditions for this particular tool are very favorable right now. There are requirements on the client side for this because they also have to improve their efficiency, they also have to be able to show that they can operate efficiently – and then that they are more efficient than others.

So, you can of course do this on the technical level, but I think further important is the operational performance by the crew on board, in terms of voyage execution. For example, you can sail your vessel from A to B on a speed that will arrive on time and you can minimize your fuel consumption, but you can easily start on a very high speed and then slow down during the voyage. Of course, in this case you burn much more fuel than needed, but at the end you arrive at the same time, but the fuel costs for example have been much higher than on the voyage when you really optimize your speed and when you try to execute this voyage in the most efficient way.

This is becoming more and more important because the operators are looking at this, and they will also measure and even also score the ship owners accordingly.

Q: You spend a lot of time training clients on StormGeo products (Fleet Decision Support System & BonVoyage System) do you find it rewarding work?

Yes! You can build trust and confidence with the client because they realize that here is someone who gained experience at sea and he is familiar with the daily challenges on vessels and the specific issues that they are facing on board. Thus, the acceptance level increases because they feel there is a guy who knows what he is talking about and really understands their issues.

Today, we are providing seminars to our clients, for example, holding seminars with the Masters and chief officers. We also do some training sessions about ship routing, efficiency, voyage execution, etc. These sessions also describe StormGeo’s philosophy about ship routing – how do we react when such and such happens – just so they can better understand our process.

This is important in my opinion, because this helps the client to use our products and services to their full extent.

Q: Do you find a disconnect between dealing with the captain and crew as compared to the requirements of the office? How do you see moving forward as reporting onboard increases putting additional burden on the ship staff?

I think both office and ship are connected seamlessly: without the other, the business wouldn’t work.

There is administration involved, of course, for a shipping company and also on board – there’s a tremendous amount. I remember once, the Master told me: ‘You know, I’m not afraid that I might run my vessel on ground, or anything like that, I’m afraid that I’m trapped on an administration level. I worry if any authority comes on board and I have not submitted a certain form’. This is their concern today.
With regard to reporting onboard – yes, indeed the requirements are growing and growing, imposed by owners, operators and authorities. We will be able to consolidate the voyage data requested by different stakeholders. Furthermore, we embedded functionality in FleetDSS enabling the client to be in compliance with regulatory obligations.

Q: If you could share one of your life lessons with our readers, what would that be?

I think failure is not necessarily negative – it’s part of experience – and you should be aware that you’re not always right. You should keep yourself open-minded towards other perspectives