SSA Receives Report on Communication Suggestions

Steamship Authority photo:

HYANNIS – The final part of a comprehensive review commissioned by the Steamship Authority of its operations was released Saturday in Hyannis.

It focused on ways to improve the boat line’s internal and external communications and followed the release of an operational and structural review in December.

Most of the suggestions from the consultants have already been implemented, including a better social media presence and the hiring of a communications manager.

It also called for establishing an Operations and Communications Center at the Authority’s Falmouth administrative offices, which has been completed.

“The communications director, setting up our operations and communications center, they recognize these are all areas that we’ve already been working on and improving upon,” said SSA General Manager Bob Davis.

Other areas where consultants called for improvement included establishing digital signage for the Authority’s five ports that will allow for real-time communications to customers waiting both inside and outside the ferry terminals.

The report also said there was a need for an updated communications plan that provides the Authority with a clear and established chain of communication.

Davis said he believes the boat line is ready for the upcoming tourism season both operationally and mechanically.

“These are the first steps in a long process that is likely to carry significant costs, both financially and logistically,” Davis said.

“But these are necessary to help the Authority emerge from one of the most challenging periods in its history and regain its deserved reputation as the Lifeline to the Islands. The Board, management and staff are committed to embracing the recommendations proposed by HMS to improve the organization.”

During a meeting of the boat line’s Board of Governors in Hyannis Saturday morning, they voted to hire HMS Consulting, which wrote the report, to assist in implementing its recommendations.

“They’ll be doing some workshops with our boards as well management staff and employees on an implementation. There’s quite a bit in that report,” said Davis. 

The main section of the review released in December criticized the agency for exhibiting “frugality” that hinders its ability to function properly and a tolerance of underperformance.

The assessment was commissioned after a series of mechanical failures over the spring and summer of 2018 that caused disruptions and cancellations.

Last spring, the boat line experienced three blackouts, a grounding, and a number of critical IT system outages.

“The resulting trip delays and cancellations, coupled with breakdowns in communication to the public, resulted in a public relations crisis and a call to action by the SSA’s governing Board on behalf of their constituents,” said the consultants in their executive summary.

Among several recommendations, the report called for better communication with the public, a realignment of operations and less reliance on “penny pinching.”

The review focused on five subject areas: fleet maintenance, vessel operations, management structure, public communications, and IT systems.

In July of 2018, a team of experts in those subject areas visited the SSA.

The team conducted interviews with employees throughout the organization, observed vessel operations, and inspected the vessels, terminals, maintenance facilities.

“The team utilized root cause analysis techniques to identify critical errors that directly and indirectly resulted in the incidents that led to the crisis,” the report said.

The boat line was criticized for exhibiting a level of frugality, or “penny pinching,” that hinders its ability to implement best practices and function properly.

“SSA’s frugality is based on admirable goals, but its overemphasis on cost reductions has been penny wise and pound foolish.”

The report went on to say that excessive frugality has resulted in understaffing across the organization, but especially in key technical roles within vessel operations and engineering.

By MATT PITTA, News Director

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