11 March 2008


Why I'm itching to get back to work eventually

Navarik BuoyIt's been fascinating, if frustrating, to watch from the sidelines as the company I work for, Navarik, has done some amazing stuff over the past year. Most recently, they launched a new version of Navarik Inspection, our web-based application that helps petroleum companies keep a handle on the oil they're moving around the world.

That sounds like a pretty big deal for a small Vancouver company. It is. When people ask me what Navarik does, I use part of Navarik Inspection as an example. Here are the basics:

  1. When an oil tanker pulls up to a terminal to load, the company shipping the oil wants to know, (a) how much oil gets pumped in, and (b) what the qualities of that oil are.
  2. To confirm that, they hire a third-party cargo inspector who works near that terminal to check the various pumping measurements, and to take samples of the oil and analyze its properties, such as sulphur content, etc.—as well as to assess the state of the ship's tank, including (for instance) how much accumulated sludge is at the bottom.
  3. Another inspector performs similar measurements and analyses several weeks later at the discharge port, where the oil is unloaded.
  4. The information reported by the inspectors goes back not only to the shipper of the oil, but also potentially to a whole mess of other companies and people, often including the terminals, the ship's crew, the ship owner and operating company (which can be different), both the buyer and seller of the oil, various others involved in the transaction, and possibly government and regulatory agencies as well.
  5. Each company receiving that information might do a bunch of stuff with it, such as passing it among various departments and through a bunch of computer systems for accounting, payment, analysis, and so on.
  6. Especially with oil at record high prices, having that quantity and quality information be accurate is pretty important.
  7. Until rather recently, a lot of the inspection reporting involved somewhat ad hoc systems of fax transmissions, emails, phone calls, courier shipments, and typing of the same information several times over into different computers at different places by different people—which risks delays and errors.

So, again, when people ask what Navarik does, I can go through the rigamarole above, and then explain how we've built a web-based software program that inspectors can sign into securely from any web browser on any computer (just like an online bank, or Gmail, or Amazon) and find out what shipments they've been hired to inspect. Then they can head down to the terminal, do their work, and come back and use that same computer (or a totally different one) to enter the reporting information, which goes directly over the Internet to the people who need to use it.

There's a lot more to it than that, obviously—mechanisms for other people to put together the lists of tests to be performed, procedures for nominating and contacting inspectors, information about ports and terminals around the world, thresholds for alerting people when inspection results are out of spec, and so on—but the overall result is that the whole cargo inspection process can go more smoothly. Information moves more efficiently and is more accurate, and people get paid quicker. And we have other web software solving similar problems for other companies too.

What I'm talking about here is a real web business—not one with a high profile and a shiny 3D glistening logo and a gazillion page views for a beta application with a questionable revenue model. Instead, Navarik is an under-the-radar company turning eight this year, with a few dozen very talented employees in a nondescript light industrial Vancouver building, adding a little bit of extra efficiency to the energy industry that keeps the modern world functioning.

For a business, that's a pretty good place to be. Navarik's founder, my friend Bill Dobie, will be speaking at the eLiberatica open-source conference in Romania this spring about it, and about how we use open technologies and standards that were built over the past decade for the Internet to make it happen.

I'm also hoping to be well enough again sometime later this year to help move it all along.

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I found this whole post about oil shipments and Navarik Inspection very interesting and well written. I never thought much about the details of oil shipments, sulphur content, quality, condition of the tanks, etc., but it is obviously important that these things be determined and recorded accurately. Navarik sounds like a great company.
Navarik. "sounds like a great company". They are on the verge of going bankrupt with 7.5 million in debt. A ridiculous decision to move to 'snake oil' program techniques (Oops!!!) with absolutely no business rationale for doing was the beginning of the end for the good ship Navarik. Going down with all hands......
And your basis for that claim is what exactly, Anonymous?
KPMG. Quote.
"As at December 31, 2008, the Company has as accumulated deficit of $7,570,563."