More than 4,600 seagoing ships and almost 1,600 inland waterway craft also cause a lot of work on paper: changes of ownership, name changes, mortgages, out-flagging and some other procedures must be entered in the shipping register. Most recently, more than 3,000 such applications plus around 300 new entries were processed annually by the largest German shipping register at Hamburg District Court. Much of it now works on the screen and in the browser: In a unique project the shipping register was digitalised in an agile IT project. mgm technology partners together with Dataport implemented the software development.

Short & concise

  • In about two years, the register sheets of the Hamburg shipping register with about 6,200 entries were transferred to a digital, web-based system.
  • Saying goodbye to paper registers means speed and service for applicants as well as working comfort for the judicial officers at the district court.
  • mgm and the public IT service provider Dataport are responsible for the agile software development.

The new era in 2020 began without celebrations, fireworks and speeches: As early as mid-August, the Hamburg District Court switched the shipping register to digital live operation. This marked the end of the paper-based register, whose origins go back to the end of the 19th century. Where previously changes in the register had to be printed out and signed twice, the process now functions fully digitally and legally compliant on screen and with a signature card.

Shipping register: First agile specialist procedure digitisation of the German justice system

The implemented digital solution can be reused according to the “one for all” principle of public IT and OZG services.

At the end of October, the project was officially handed over to the clients (Authority for Economy and Innovation, Hamburg District Court and the Authority for Justice and Consumer Protection, BJV). At the same time, the Federal State of Bremen has already announced that it will take over the solution from Dataport and mgm for its shipping register with around 1,300 seagoing ships and inland waterway. Other other federal states have also expressed interest. These successes show: The implemented digital solution can be reused according to the “one for all” principle of public IT and OZG services.

This together would have been reason enough for a fitting celebration for the project team of 20 people. But the real reason for the celebration lies deeper: in only about two years and with only a few months delay, they have digitised the first shipping register in Germany. And much more: “The shipping register is the first completed specialist procedure development project in the German justice system that has successfully used agile project management,” says André Basten, head of the IT and Digitalisation Department at the BJV. For him, the shipping register is a milestone in the German justice system in many respects. Not only because of the agile approach, but also because it is unparalleled in the world of public authorities in terms of budget and runtime reliability. And not least because it finally closes the gap between the commercial register and the land register, which have been kept electronically for years.

Digitalisation request from the specialist department

The initial impetus for the digitalisation of the shipping register also and above all came from the department itself. “All this paperwork here has naturally fallen out of time,” says Berit Pamperin-Herbst, judicial officer at the shipping register of the Hamburg District Court. During the on-site visit, a lot of thin files several centimetres thick are piled up on and behind her desk. She has been working at the district court since 1980, and 15 years at the shipping register. Every registered sea and inland waterway ship and every naval construction is represented in the office with a register file, and most of the procedural files are stored in the office. The oldest registration found dates back to 1889.

I work with it every day and find it very nice compared to the past.

Since mid-August, the digital register entries have been part of the everyday work of the five judicial officers and five service colleagues in the Ship Register office. “I work with them every day and find it very nice compared to the past,” says Pamperin-Herbst. It is more convenient, she says, for example, she no longer has to wait for the second signature and can sign on her own. She could look forward to this throughout the entire project, because as a specialist user she was officially partly assigned to the project. But all other colleagues in the small specialist department were also able to join in, test and give feedback on the typical agile reviews every 14 days. “As far as the level of knowledge is concerned, this is great for an agile project,” says Pamperin-Herbst. “I think that’s really right, I would rather not be involved in a software project in the traditional, classic project structure.”

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Business and shipowners for international service

The second driving force to replace the slow paper processes with fast digital processes came from the port industry, ship owners and ship operators. “Shipping always has a demand for international communication, which should therefore also function across time zones,” says Tim Schneider, himself a trained judicial officer and authority project manager for the digital ship register since April 2020. Up to now, even the request for an extract from the register, for example from ship owners or banks, only functioned by means of a written application sent by e-mail or fax. This was followed by: searching the paper file, making a copy and sending it by post. Now there is a digital service for this within the Hamburg Service.

To ensure that such register information and other entries on the register sheets can only be processed digitally, temporary staff in particular have put in a great deal of effort and hard work to transfer all the data of the more than 6,000 active Hamburg ships to the new software. Once the legal officers have signed the contract that the paper register and the digital register match, the ships are officially and legally digitally managed in accordance with the law.

Change in law for fully digital process

An appropriate amendment to the law is being prepared and should soon enter the legislative process.

At present, however, the extract from the register must still be sent by post in some legally necessary cases. There is also still no electronic outgoing mail without media discontinuity. The goal of digitalisation of a specialised process must be that paper does not have to be printed, submitted or sent at any point in the process. In order to be legally valid, however, certain documents such as ship’s certificate, ship’s papers and certified extracts must currently still be created and signed in paper form. A corresponding amendment to the law is being prepared and should soon enter the legislative process. If things go well, the necessary amendments will be in place by the end of 2021. Before then, the plan is to connect electronic file management to the system by summer 2021.

“Some of the fully digital extensions are already prepared”, explains Christian Thomsen, development manager of the project at mgm. As soon as the legal situation allows it, they could be activated in the web environments for the applicants* and specialist users*. Nevertheless he is very satisfied with the course of the project. Above all because the basic goal, the digitisation of the register, was largely completed on time and within budget – despite the inevitable, unforeseeable challenges that a project of this technical and legal complexity always brings with it.

Remote project work across company and authority boundaries

In total, six developers at mgm in Hamburg and Dataport in Kiel/Altenholz as well as Hamburg worked predominantly with full time on the project. In addition, there were the Scrum roles “Scrum Master” and “Product Owner” as well as the project manager at the Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection. A steering committee consisting of representatives of the economic authority, the judicial authority, the local court, the staff council and the development implementers mgm and Dataport were regularly given interim results at shoulder glance.

Even before Corona, some of the agile project work was carried out remotely via video and telephone conferences. The basis for the work was a Jira board, which could be viewed at any time by all those involved in IT and the specialist department and was discussed every 14 days during the reviews. In this way, negative effects caused by the pandemic could be almost completely avoided.

The development of the Hamburg ship register was implemented and developed using the developer framework Angular.

The shipping registers in Germany are unique in the world because they are kept at courts. Legally and practically they are a cross between the land registers for real estate and the vehicle register of the Federal Motor Transport Authority: The register of ships itself contains details of the ships, but above all the owner or owners and any mortgages. As with road vehicles, the registers issue a certificate of registry for sea-going vessels and a certificate of registry for inland waterway vessels, which remain with the owner. According to the German flag state administration, there are 17 maritime shipping registers in Germany. Ships must be entered in the register which is responsible for the chosen home port or the owner’s registered office. The choice of flag and thus the national law under which a ship sails can be made independently of this.

Photo: Mediaserver Hamburg / DoubleVision –