Seagull + Videotel – new CEO and significant investment plans

Apr 23 2020

Maritime e-learning companies Videotel and Seagull have appointed a new CEO and announced plans to invest further in maritime “knowledge and technology.”

Maritime e-learning and “knowledge services” companies Videotel and Seagull have appointed a new CEO for both companies, Manish Singh, and announced plans to invest over $30m in new capabilities in maritime “knowledge and technology” over the next five years.


Manish Singh is a former group managing director of corporate development with V.Group and an experienced marine and ship manager himself.


The move follows the acquisition of both companies by private equity company Oakley Capital in May 2019.


The former owner of the Seagull stake was Herkules Private Equity Fund IV, and the former owner of the Videotel was KVH Industries, a maritime satellite communications company.


Oakley has experience in both maritime as well as learning technology businesses. It was previously invested in Headland Media, a provider of media and entertainment services to the offshore and shipping sectors. It has also invested in Inspired, described as “one of the leading global premium schools’ groups”; Career Partner Group, “a fast-growing private university” in Germany; Schülerhilfe, Europe’s “largest after-school tutoring business”; and AMOS, “one of the leading international business schools” in France.


Seagull and Videotel together serve about 20,000 ships and installations and reach about a million seafarers.


In October 2019, Seagull announced it had acquired 50 per cent of the shares of COEX, a software company in Bergen focused on helping maritime companies better manage processes, prove compliance and reduce risk, developing more structured “workflows” to make data easier to manage.


In April 2019, Seagull acquired Tero Marine, a fleet management software company headquartered in Bergen, which makes tools for planned maintenance, procurement and asset management. The company had 55 employees at the time of the acquisition.


One of the ideas behind this acquisition was that it might be possible to combine the planning of ship-board activities, such as operational processes and doing ship maintenance work, with relevant training.


So, for example, a seafarer could be provided with an e-learning package about a piece of machinery he is scheduled to do maintenance work on, if he has never seen it before.


Manish Singh

Manish Singh is a Master Mariner and has over 25 years of maritime experience, of which the last 15 have been in ship management and marine services roles. 


“I didn’t choose the shipping industry, I was kind of born into it,” Manish told Tanker Operator. “I’m a 3rd generation seafarer, for as long as I can remember I’ve been around ships. It was always a way of life for me, and subsequently a career I followed in.”


“My father is a marine engineer and we have master mariners spanning 3 generations in the family. So, putting Seafarers at the heart of what we do, is fundamental for me”


“As a seafarer, I have been a user of Seagull and Videotel, then as a ship manager a customer of both these businesses” he said.


Private equity

Manish told Tanker Operator that values working in a private equity backed environment, something he is familiar with, through his various roles at V.Group, from 2007 to 2019.


“I see private equity as a good agent for investment and change in the maritime services industry,” he said. “I think this industry needs blue-chip private equity partners, to help succession and investment into high quality privately owned companies.”


When V.Group got GE Capital as its first Private Equity investor, there were very few companies in private equity hands in the maritime sector, now there are over 30,” he estimates.


Looking at the background of several blue-chip ship management groups – many were established in the mid-1990s as intensifying regulatory changes following the ISM code made it more compelling for small owners to outsource the management of their own vessels.


As a generation of high quality ship managers faces a period of market consolidation, Private equity companies can help bring the expertise and the capital needed. Also, service companies will continue to need significant investments in emerging technology and develop people with the skills to work with it. 


Institutional investors like Private Equity have worked alongside blue-chip private companies and listed corporations, to bring increased transparency and governance in the sector. Commenting on how it is like to work on a Private Equity backed team, Manish says “with a commitment to improve the proposition of the company in their ownership, Private Equity brings more accountability and support to the management,” he said. “You understand very clearly what your customers expect from the business and draw on your Private Equity partners to invest in areas that the customers value,” he said.


Following the acquisition by Oakley Capital, Seagull and Videotel announced in June 2019 that the company was committing to invest over $30m over the next five years in maritime “knowledge and technology”.


This was something Manish particularly wanted to see from shareholders before joining the company. “I wanted to know, what is our shareholders appetite to invest in improvement of the platform, the content, the extension of what the business does – our Value Proposition,” he said.


Developing e-learning

The core products of Videotel and Seagull are learning content, approved courses and assessment systems, which come together in the most tested learning management system in the industry.


The combined Group “has the biggest maritime content library in the world by a big margin,” Manish says. ”However, we want to go beyond Big. We want to work with our customers and other industry stakeholders like OEMs, P&I clubs. Flag Administrations and other Industry bodies – to ensure content is as engaging and as topical as possible.”


Manish and team are investing in Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) to provide immersive learning experiences which would otherwise involve environments of higher risk, such as entering an enclosed space, navigating through highly congested waters, undertaking wall wash testing on a chemical tanker, or handling a certain emergency situation.


The modules can be taken on their own, in a number of short bites or in a longer session, or as part of a “learning path”.


The products aim to be about helping people make intuitive decisions when they do the task on a ship, more than memorising facts. “It goes beyond training, it is more skill development, more intuitive,” Captain Singh said. ”Our mission is to delivery safety by improving proficiencies and decision making at sea”


The first e-learning applications were designed more about compliance or enabling seafarers to demonstrate a certain level of learning. But now, shipping companies are looking for skills development, above the level required to comply with regulations.


At the same time though, shipping companies are looking for ways to understand the return on investment in training.


Videotel is exploring ways that the training can be more personalised or specific. For example, it could make training specific to a certain ship or fleet, or content specific to a certain original equipment manufacturer (OEM).


Seafarers could be trained to use new equipment before they use it as part of a voyage. This can lead to benefits in both efficiency of operations and safety.


The return on investment can be quantified in other ways. For example, “You might have fuel savings by training the officer of the watch how best to manage the ships operating parameters in a better way,” he said. “Better interaction between Seafarers and their operating environment, is where we are going.”


Videotel had its roots in being an enabler in communal learning, where a team working onboard and ashore can together experience, discuss and practice how they would deal with an incident, and discuss (or be taught) what a good response looks like.


A further step is simulator based learning, where people develop skills in navigation or managing a vessel engine room, on a full mission simulator.


Simulator based training is a vital part of the blended learning a Seafarer benefits from. Simulator based training requires substantial shore-based investment in infrastructure, risks new technologies making recent investments redundant, requires significant time and investment on part of the seafarer and the ship managers/ owners respectively.


“We see the immersive and collaborative learning experience of simulators as highly beneficial. However, we are miniaturizing the simulator experience using virtual reality and augmented reality” Manish says. The miniaturization and lower costs using virtual reality makes it a compelling complementary experience to full mission simulators, which will continue to be used for key exercises involving bridge teams, engine room teams, cargo handling and other specific equipment / operations.


Using VR, we could work with our customers to deliver virtual pre-joining briefings, helping seafarers get to know the ship, before they join.


“Seafarers have a busy life onboard; they want whatever time they are spending in the learning environment to be immersive and engaging,” he says.


Seafarers of all ages, but youngsters in particular, are used to consuming content on tablets and smart phones. “We don’t want them to go through a training experience that doesn’t feel as interactive as they are used to.”


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