Over the past few years there have been many advancements in freight visibility technology, particularly in trucking. Those advancements are now making their way into other modes of transportation, including ocean transport. What factors are driving this trend? How are these advancements improving the way data is shared in ocean transportation? How are companies leveraging enhanced visibility to deliver business benefits? Those are some of the key questions I discussed with Andrew Sisto, Senior Product Manager at project44, in a recent episode of Talking Logistics.
Ocean visibility using EDI
To start any journey forward you first have to know where you are now. Hence, I began our discussion on visibility by asking Andrew how shippers in recent years have tried to get visibility to their ocean shipments.
Andrew states that in the past companies seeking ocean visibility went through a rather lengthy and costly process with their IT departments to set up EDI transactions with ocean carriers. The EDI transactions would feed milestone events into the company’s transportation management system (TMS). Andrew says, “It worked reasonably well and served its purpose for a while, but now it’s time for something better.”
A step forward with APIs
One technology that transportation companies, especially the trucking community, are using to eliminate the cost and complexity of setting up EDI connections is automated programming interfaces (APIs).
Andrew explains that, “Due to regulatory changes, every truck has to have an [ELD] device for tracking data. This data is collected via APIs, eliminating the need for EDI transactions. The ability to share data is vastly expanded, providing more timely, accurate and robust information.
“But there are no [ELD/IoT] devices on ocean carriers,” continues Andrew. “The ocean carriers have been slower to roll out this new technology, perhaps because hours and minutes matter in trucking where ocean shipping thinks more in terms of days. Now ocean carriers as starting to realize the rich sources of data they have which they can use to improve their operations, and that will benefit shippers. They are adopting APIs and getting excited about the possibilities.”
Enhancing the customer experience
With the advancements in API-driven visibility, I asked Andrew how shippers’ expectations are changing? Andrew notes that, “Many companies are starting to look at the supply chain as the tip of the spear for enhancing the customer experience. It’s not just a cost center any longer. Several large companies have raised customer expectations with things like next-day deliveries. Shippers are realizing they need to improve their operational capabilities and be more proactive with managing exceptions. Timely data is an important factor enabling them to do that.
“Shippers now want to give their customers visibility into where their orders are and when they will arrive. While the older technology may have been adequate [in the past], it’s not going to get them where they need to be in the future.”
In today’s fast-paced business world, it’s no longer enough to know where the ship is. Customers want to know which containers are on the ship and what orders and SKUs are in each container. This nested visibility goes far beyond what past technology could provide.
Andrew comments, “Customers are beginning to understand that ocean shipping is a whole ecosystem — containers don’t have wheels. The container must be picked up by drayage, brought to and moved around the port, loaded onto the ship and then the reverse takes place at the destination. The ability to connect the dots between the nodes in that ecosystem is the next step forward in visibility. It’s hard to do that with EDI because you have to wait for someone to send you that information. Customers want visibility to PO/SKU-level information across the ecosystem.”
Leveraging improved ocean visibility
How are companies leveraging this expanded ocean visibility? Andrew says companies are feeding the data into their TMS applications for analysis. “Some of our TMS partners are developing very sophisticated capabilities to leverage this data.”
Andrew goes on to explain that, “Customers are also beginning to deploy business intelligence tools to answer questions such as: Is my network designed the right way? Which terminals are giving me the fastest throughput? How does that affect costs?”
Andrew provided a number of other examples of how companies are deriving value from improved ocean visibility, as well as some suggestions for what actions companies should take to begin the journey. I encourage you to watch the full video for all the details. Then post a comment and share your perspective on this topic!