The HMS report a year later

Lion’s share of recommendations by independent consultant adopted by SSA.

HMS Consulting president John Sainsbury listens to the public's comments at the Dec. 17, 2018 unveiling of the report he captained. - Gabrielle Mannino

Dec. 17, 2019, marked the one-year anniversary of the HMS report unveiling. Generated after extensive vessel failures and trip cancellations in the spring of 2018 upended the Woods Hole–Vineyard route, the $218,000 top-to-bottom review called for widespread changes at the Steamship Authority. As of January 2020, most of the major recommendations made in the report have either been implemented by the SSA or are in the process of being implemented. The report was written by maritime experts at HMS Consulting and Technical and that company’s two subcontractors, Glosten Associates and Rigor Analytics. It called for new positions, new processes, shakeups in SSA organizational structure, new recruitment and evaluation practices, and the establishment of a vision. 

Changes to SSA organizational structure

The engineering department at the SSA needed beefing up, according to the HMS report. 

“With a fleet of 10 highly diverse vessels, geographically separated between Woods Hole, Hyannis, and Fairhaven, operating on a very demanding schedule, it is not realistic to expect a single Port Engineer and a single Assistant Port Engineer to provide all the oversight and support functions that are needed. It is recommended that the SSA hire an additional Port Engineer and Assistant Port Engineer, dividing the fleet between the two teams.”

In November, the SSA announced Robert Stewart, formerly a project manager and marine engineer at ENE Energy Advisors, was hired as the ferry line’s second port engineer. Also in November, the SSA announced Zachary Lawrence, a Maine Maritime graduate who served aboard offshore tugboats, would be the ferry line’s second assistant port engineer. 

In September 2019, the SSA hired Liam Slein, former facilities engineer at the Massachusetts Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance, for the new position of project engineer. The HMS report stated the position was necessary to “take on all the responsibilities regarding the planning and management of major repairs, vessel overhauls, and capital projects. While port engineers will provide valuable support and advice to the project engineer, their focus will remain on daily fleet operations.” In November 2019, the SSA announced Timothy DeMoranville, former mechanical maintenance supervisor at Covanta SEMASS (Southeastern Massachusetts Resource Recovery Facility), was hired as assistant vessel maintenance manager. 

“In this role,” a release states, “which is newly created, Mr. DeMoranville assists the vessel maintenance manager with the supervision of the maintenance department trades personnel and vessel personnel who are assigned to the Fairhaven Vessel Maintenance Facility, or any location where an Authority vessel may be under repair or overhaul.”

In addition to adding new positions, the HMS report recommended the SSA aim for more external hires, as opposed to promoting from within. The SSA made some major external hires in April 2019. Angela Sampson, a former environmental officer for Celebrity Cruises, became the ferry line’s first health, safety, quality, and environmental manager. Among other utilities, the report noted, the position was key to implementing safety and quality management systems deemed as vital improvements. Citing a “lack of maritime operating experience at the executive/director level,” the report recommended hiring a marine operations director. 

The SSA did so in April, bringing aboard Mark Amundsen, a former operations manager for Singapore Technologies Marine. Amundsen recently absorbed the duties of former director of maintenance and engineering Carl Walker. Walker left the SSA on Jan. 3 due to what SSA general manager Robert Davis called “restructuring” per the HMS report. Prior to Amundsen’s arrival, Mark Rozum had been responsible for many elements of marine operations. In June, the board voted to promote Rozum to treasurer/comptroller. Some of Rozum’s other past duties were given to Alison Fletcher, an associate terminal agent who was hired in August as director of shoreside operations. This was a newly minted position. The position of operations manager was dissolved. 

The HMS report recommended eliminating the position of assistant port captain. The SSA didn’t agree. After newly minted Port Captain Jordan Baptiste resigned following an OUI arrest on the Vineyard, the SSA promoted Assistant Port Captain Charles Monteiro to the role in August 2019. The SSA didn’t leave the assistant port captain position empty for long. In December, longtime SSA Captain Paul Hennessy was promoted to the role. 

In June 2018, well before the HMS report was created, the SSA hired former Cape Cod Times reporter Sean Driscoll as communications director. The ferry line had taken a drubbing from the public and the press in the preceding months as vessel failures and crossing cancellations reached crisis level. Poor communication and lack of transparency were common criticisms, and later became subjects of an HMS supplemental report on communications. Driscoll ushered in a social media presence for the SSA, revamped bulletins and alerts, sent regular press releases, improved transparency, and generally relieved Davis of the PR and press duties he’d engaged in on top of his managerial duties. The supplemental report also found SSA terminal signage was deficient. A campaign to improve the signage has yet to get underway. 

“It’s something we know we need to address,” Driscoll said

Process-based management

“The SSA can best be described as an organization that relies heavily on the experience, dedication, and hard work of long-tenured employees, perhaps too heavily,” the HMS report states. “It utilizes a general management approach that focuses on institutional knowledge and budget-focused direct solutions for tasks. As a result, the organization has been unable to control quality, standardize responsibilities, or identify operational risks. Without implementing a process-based approach to management, [the] SSA will continue to be unable to prevent unforeseeable factors, such as crew performance, from impacting their operations.” 

In order to bring process-based management to the SSA, the report called for the adoption of three new systems: LMS, QMS, and SMS. 

In March, SSA General Manager Robert Davis signed a contract with a Canadian software company to implement a Learning Management System (LMS). The HMS report described LMS as a “training and learning program that provides administration, documentation, tracking, and delivery, all in one system.”

In September, the SSA hired a Maine-based software company to begin integrating a Safety Management System (SMS). A core recommendation of the HMS report, the system was anticipated to have “a very high impact, perhaps the highest of the recommendations, on SSA operations,” according to the report. Also recommended by the report was a Quality Management System (QMS), “a collection of business processes focused on consistently meeting customer requirements and enhancing their satisfaction.” The report indicated SMS and QMS “can be combined into one system for efficiency.” The SSA has done this through its Maine-based contractor, Safety Management Systems, LLC. The merged acronym is SQMS. 

Vision and metrics

“Vision represents an aspirational purpose that the organization would like to achieve in the long run,” the report states. The combination of a mission statement, performance objectives, and a strategic plan should direct an organization on how they are going to achieve their vision. A vision is crucial to any organization utilizing process-based management, as it represents the desired result.” 

In November, after years without a clear and consistent mission statement, the SSA board ratified one: “Our mission is to operate a safe, efficient, and reliable transportation system for the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket with a commitment to sustainability, accessibility, our port communities, and public engagement.”

Driscoll said an implementation plan is in the works. He anticipates the mission statement will be visible in every terminal, on every vessel, and in most SSA employee work areas. 

“A strategic plan answers how the organization is going to navigate what is ahead in order to attain the mission (long term) and performance objectives (short term),” the report states. “Strategic planning provides a framework for making long-term decisions, aligns goals across an organization, and helps to ensure the long-term availability of the resources critical to organizational success. Each of these areas have been a problem for the SSA.”

The SSA hasn’t yet implemented strategic planning, but it’s in the process of finding a consultant to guide the work. A request for proposals has been issued

Performance metrics and S.M.A.R.T. (Specific Measurable Achievable Relevant Time-bound) goals, also recommendations of the report, won’t be implemented until strategic planning is complete.

“The metrics will be guided by what comes out of the strategic planning process,” Driscoll said, therefore they need to wait.

“It is critical for any high-performance organization to be able to accurately and efficiently measure its own performance, so that bad practices can be identified and remediated, and good practices can be reinforced,” the report states. “The individuals responsible for leading and managing the organization must be evaluated based on the same performance metrics, to ensure their goals are aligned with the organization’s.”

The HMS report found the SSA’s management goals needed improvement. “Goals are only useful if their completion is likely to correspond to organizational success,” the report states. “SSA management annual review goals were observed to be ineffective in this regard, due to a lack of clarity and measurability.”

To improve goal effectiveness, the report recommended the adoption of S.M.A.R.T. goals.

Full steam ahead

A tally for the cost of implementing the HMS report thus far isn’t available, but the Port Council, at a meeting last week, showed interest in seeing a figure, Driscoll said. 

HMS Global Maritime, the parent company of HMS Consulting and Technical, dissolved HMS Consulting and Technical in January. Driscoll said HMS had been assisting in the implementation of the recommendations made in its report, and it was unclear what would transpire next. 

John Sainsbury, former president of HMS Consulting and Technical, said he won’t let the SSA down. 

“We’re going to continue to support the Steamship Authority under a different contract and a different name,” he told The Times by phone from Seattle. Sainsbury said his new company would be called Maritime Consulting Partners, LLC. The new company will work with Glosten Associates to assist the SSA, he said. 

In an email to The Times, Davis waxed positive about the implementation process thus far. 

“Overall, I have been extremely pleased with our progress in implementing the recommendations contained in the HMS report,” he wrote. “We knew from the outset that a company-wide transformation of this magnitude would be no small undertaking, so to be off to this strong a start is gratifying. Our work so far would not have been possible without the support of our board and port council, along with the acceptance and willingness of employees on all levels of the SSA to embrace the recommendations and embark on improving all facets of our operations. We still have a lot of work to do, and as the consultants have said many times, these kinds of changes can take years to show their benefits. However, I have no doubt we are on the right path.” 


  1. Most conspicuous has been the Steamship Authority senior staff’s refusal for more than a year to hire a Chief Operating Officer. Introduction of a COO position was one of the HMS Report’s strongest recommendations. The new person would have brought in much needed new thinking to the SSA. But it would also have meant hiring from the outside and threatening existing internal lines of succession within the SSA. Marc Hanover sided with SSA senior staff, as he is wont to do.

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